Could there ever be a more deceptive advertisement? Far from being the funniest comedy in history, it must rank among the least. It’s definitely among the weakest of Buster Keaton’s talking features and that’s really saying something! And guess what! It was a huge box office hit, just one more reason to shake your knobby fist at the human race, as I do every morning upon arising as part of my of ablutions.
Part of the film’s success may have rested on its topicality; What, No Beer? is a comedy about two guys (Keaton and Jimmy Durante) who jump the gun too fast when Prohibition is repealed and start production at a brewery before the new law has taken effect. It is an interesting document of the times, if nothing else. Keaton plays his umpteenth “Elmer”, a taxidermist. Durante is his overbearing buddy. They are forced to throw in with gangsters. Much tedious, unfunny business. Also Keaton revives a bit from Seven Chances, replacing rolling boulders with rolling beer kegs…here shot badly from the front (the side was better), and the kegs are cumbersome and easy to evade…unless of course you’re soused, like Keaton was. The Three Stooges later appropriated this sequence in films of their own. This was Keaton’s last film for MGM, thus the end of his time at the top as a Hollywood star.
Ironically, my kids have seen this film (as opposed to, say, (The General) a zillion times. They just loved to watch it during the VHS days. Who can why? Maybe it was the noisome Durante. Maybe it was the inevitable “vat of suds” sequence. Maybe it was Buster’s large stuffed fish:
For more on slapstick comedy and films like “What, No Beer?” don’t miss book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc