|Director: Buster Keaton and John G. Blystone
|Screenplay: Jean C. Havez & Clyde Bruckman and Joseph Mitchell
|Stars: Buster Keaton (Willie McKay), Natalie Talmadge (Virginia Canfield), Joe Roberts (Joseph Canfield), Francis X. Bushman Jr. (Canfield’s 1st Son), Craig Ward (Canfield’s 2nd Son), Monte Collins (The Parson), Joe Keaton (The Engineer), Kitty Bradbury (The Aunt), Buster Keaton Jr. (Willie McKay - 1 Year Old)
|MPAA Rating: NR
|Year of Release: 1923
Our Hospitality was Buster Keaton’s second feature-length film, following 20 one- and two-reelers he directed or co-directed between 1917 and 1923. His previous feature, The Three Ages (1923), was an uneven comedy comprised of three different stories told in three different time periods, which made it a feature in name only because the three stories could easily have been separated out and turned into shorts (Keaton was inspired to spoof the structure of D.W. Griffith’s epic 1916 film Intolerance, but he also took note of the fact that, when Intolerance failed at the box office, they tried to recoup their money by separating two of the film’s four stories to create stand-alone features). The manner in which Keaton effectively hedged his bet with Three Ages suggests that he was not entirely confident in making the leap from two reels to six; the same could not be said for Our Hospitality.Set in the 1830s, Our Hospitality is a much more assured and mature work, not to mention a film that is decidedly more cinematic in its visuals. Similar to some of his earlier two-reelers, including The Paleface (1922), Keaton begins the film with straight melodrama—somber title cards, expressionistic lighting, and violent action to establish the background of the story, which centers on an extended, Hatfields-and-McCoys-esque feud between two Southern families. Keaton stars as Willie McKay, a young man who returns to claim his family property after being raised by his aunt in New York to protect him from the ongoing feud with the Canfields, whose paterfamilias, Joseph Canfield (Joe Roberts), killed his father when he was an infant. The feud is immediately complicated by the fact that Willie takes a liking to Joseph’s daughter, Virginia (Natalie Talmadge), and she to him, before they realize that they are on opposing sides of the feud. It’s too late, though, as Virginia has invited Willie to the Canfield house for dinner, where he realizes who they are (the first Canfield son has already figured out Willie’s identity, but isn’t able to convey the news before Virginia invites him for dinner). But, there is another catch, as Joseph insists that Willie can’t be killed by either of his handsome, trigger-happy sons (Francis X. Bushman Jr. and Craig Ward) while he is a guest in their home (God bless Southern hospitality!). Naturally, this makes Willie not want to leave the home of his sworn enemy, which leads to one of the film’s great comic sequences, as Willie moves in and out of the house with the Canfield sons ready to plug him the second he steps foot out the door.This middle section of the film is preceded by another elaborate comic setpiece involving Willie’s travel by train from New York. Keaton and co-director John G. Blystone (who essentially turned the production over to Keaton after only a week of filming) find great humor in the various and exaggerated absurdities of early rail travel, including the fact that the tracks are built right over rocks and fallen logs, producing a roller coaster effect at times. When they come across a stubborn donkey standing in the way, they just get out and drag the tracks around the incalcitrant animal. The train moves so slowly that Willie’s dog is able to keep up by running beneath it, and the engineer (played by Keaton’s father, Joe Keaton) is distracted enough that he doesn’t even realize when the train separates from the engine on a parallel set of tracks. All the while Willie is in a tiny, cramped car with Virginia, the minimal headroom of which gives him the excuse to exchange her period-appropriate top hat for his period-inappropriate (but official Buster Keaton) porkpie hat, a gag that clearly indicates just how familiar Keaton and his signature look was to audiences by the early 1920s.The film’s greatest sequence, though, involves Willie, Virginia, both Canfield sons, a boat, and a perilous waterfall. An early version of the classic Keaton trajectory gag—which he brought to perfection in films like Sherlock Jr. (1924) and Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)—the waterfall sequence at one point finds Keaton, tethered by a rope tied to a log that is lodged in the rocks just above the waterfall, dangling perilously while Virginia is pulled down the river, not realizing what lies at the end. To say that Keaton saves her doesn’t give anything away, although the exhilarating stunt that allows him to save her just as she goes over is one of those things you just have to see for yourself.
|Three Ages / Our Hospitality Blu-ray
|1.33:1 (both films)
|DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surroundDTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround
|Cohen Media Group / Kino Lorber
|November 7, 2023
|As with Cohen’s previous Buster Keaton releases, the Three Ages / Our Hospitality disc is part of the Keaton Project, which was launched in 2015 as a joint venture between Cineteca di Bologna and the Cohen Film Collection to restore all of Keaton’s films made between 1920 and 1928. The visual quality of the two films included on this release are quite different, as the elements available for restoration for Our Hospitality were in much better condition than the ones for Three Ages. This does not mean that due diligence was not done for Three Ages, as five separate elements, three of them held by Cohen and two with the Centre national du cinema et de l’image animée in Paris, were examined for use. A second-generation dupe negative was chosen as the main element for the transfer, with a dupe positive and a second dupe negative of later generations used to fill in three missing shots, including the final shot of the film. Alas, there is quite a bit of damage evident in the final image, some of which obscures almost the entirety of the screen at times. There are tears, stains, scratches, and blotches throughout, although the image is generally stable (despite the appearance of sprocket holes along the side of the image from time to time). Again, this is not due to any lack of effort made, but rather the reality of the status of many silent-era films, including those by luminaries like Keaton. The overall quality of the image is a bit softer than some of the other films in the Keaton Collection, although detail is generally good. Our Hospitality, on the other hand, looks really great, primarily due to the much higher quality of the source elements. For this film, they inspected 17 different elements and honed in on three to use for the transfer: a first-generation nitrate positive from the Library of Congress (which was used for the majority of the transfer) and two second-generation negative duplicates held by Cohen. The image here is much sharper and cleaner than Three Ages, with very little evidence of wear or damage. There is strong evidence of grain that looks good in motion, while contrast and detail are superb for a film of this age. Both films look better than their previous Kino releases, and it should also be noted that both are in pure black-and-white with no tinting or toning (previous releases of Our Hospitality had yellow and blue tinting). As for the soundtrack, Three Ages offers a nice score composed by Rodney Sauer that features piano, accordion, violin, trumpet, and percussion in both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Our Hospitality features a full orchestral score composed and conducted by silent film composer Carl Davis, which is also offered in both 5.1 and 2.0. Unfortunately, there are no supplements to speak of outside of a restoration trailer for Our Hospitality, which is disappointing given that previous discs in the Buster Keaton Collection included at least a featurette or two.
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