Sherlock, Jr.

Directors: Buster Keaton
Screenplay: Jean C. Havez & Joseph A. Mitchell and Clyde Bruckman
Stars: Buster Keaton (Projectionist / Sherlock, Jr.), Kathryn McGuire (The Girl), Joe Keaton (The Girl’s Father / Man on Film Screen), Erwin Connelly (The Hired Man / The Butler), Ward Crane (The Local Sheik / The Villain)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1924
Country: U.S.
Sherlock Jr. / The Navigator Blu-ray
Sherlock, Jr.

Sherlock, Jr. is Buster Keaton’s masterpiece and one of the greatest silent-era comedies—a clockwork marvel of visual invention and meta-cinematic reflection. His third feature and one of the few for which he is the sole credited director, Sherlock, Jr. embodies in a particularly compelling (and hilarious) way all of Keaton’s greatest cinematic strengths. It features what is quite possibly the best trajectory gag in all of Keaton’s films, an extended chase sequence in which he flies through all manner of danger while riding on the handlebars of a driverless motorcycle. It also features an intriguing storyline in which Keaton plays a mild-mannered movie projectionist who magically steps into the screen one day and finds himself the star of a mystery, thus using humor to reflect on the fantasy of the cinematic apparatus and our desire to lose ourselves in it.

In the real world, Keaton’s projectionist is in love with a girl (Kathryn McGuire) who is also pursued by “The Local Sheik” (Ward Crane), a smarmy would-be suitor who tries to one-up Keaton at every turn (his impressive height makes Keaton’s slight build seem all the slighter). While they are both trying to woo the girl, the sheik frames Keaton for a theft he committed, thus turning the girl’s father (Joe Keaton, the star’s real-life father) against him. It is at this point that he walks into the movie screen, thus reinforcing the idea that the cinema is not just fantasy, but a literal escape.

Once inside the world of the movies, Keaton becomes Sherlock, Jr., a famous detective who is trying to crack a case involving characters who reflect those in his own life. The world of the movie is distinctly Victorian, and his nemesis looks like any number of moustache-twirling villains who will stop at nothing to get their way. Sherlock, Jr. is wonderfully blithe about it all, and Keaton uses his stone-faced persona to particularly good effect here, especially in an extended sequence where the villain and his righthand man (Erwin Connelly) try to assassinate Sherlock, Jr. by tricking him into hitting an explosive billiard ball. It doesn’t go as planned, of course, partially because of Sherlock, Jr.’s deft billiard skills (Keaton’s impressive shots are done in unbroken takes, thus assuring us that he was as skilled with a pool cue as he was in performing physical stunts).

Physical stunts, of course, are the bread and butter of Keaton’s comedies, and Sherlock, Jr. is filled with them, especially during the aforementioned trajectory gag in which Keaton haplessly zooms about while perched on the handlebars of a motorcycle that (unbeknownst to him) has lost its driver. Keaton employs all manner of cinematic trickery, including special effects (such as when he crosses train tracks just as the train arrives), hairpin timing (such as when the motorcycle safely traverses a gap in a bridge because two cargo trucks happens to pass underneath it at exactly the right second), and even stagecraft. Keaton, like Charles Chaplin, was raised in the world of vaudeville and learned a great deal about stage trickery, which he employs in one of the film’s most jaw-dropping moments where Keaton appears to leap through the midsection of another man and simply disappear (go ahead—watch it frame by frame and you will see there are no edits, no optical effects). It is just one small moment in a film that is literally bursting with humor, visual inventiveness, and a surprisingly deep understanding of our complex relationship with the silver screen.

The Buster Keaton Collection Vol. 2: Sherlock, Jr. / The Navigator Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio1.33:1
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround (The Navigator)
  • DTS-Had Master Audio 2.0 surround (Sherlock, Jr.
  • SubtitlesNone
  • “Buster Keaton: The Great Stone Face” featurette
  • “Buster Keaton: The Comedian” featurette
  • Restoration trailers for both films
  • DistributorCohen Film Collection
    Release DateJuly 9, 2019

    The second volume of the Cohen Film Collection’s Buster Keaton films offers us two new transfers, both of which looks very good. The transfer for Sherlock, Jr. was made from a first-generation interpositive safety print held by the Cohen Film Collection, with some missing shots replaced from a second generation internegative and a third generation safety print from the Harvard Archive. The Navigator was transferred from a third generation safety duplicate positive held by the Cohen Film Collection. Sherlock, Jr. is clearly the better looking of the two films, as The Navigator is overall softer and betrays more damage, although it is minimal after digital restoration. Both transfers maintain a pleasing filmlike appearance and don’t try to flatten out or erase the film grain. There is some variance in quality from shot to shot, but such is to be expected from films of this age. Overall, both look better they ever have on home video. Both films also feature new scores, with The Navigator’s presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and Sherlock, Jr.’s presented in DTS-HD Master Audio two-channel stereo. In terms of supplements, we get two four-minutes featurettes culled from interviews recorded for the feature-length documentary The Great Buster: “Buster Keaton: The Great Stone Face” and “Buster Keaton: The Comedian,” both of which feature interviews with film critic Leonard Malton, actor Bill Hader, and directors Quentin Tarantino and Jon Watts, among others. The disc also includes restoration trailers for both films.

    Copyright © 2019 James Kendrick

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