Buster Keaton’s “The Balloonatic”

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Today is the anniversary of the release of Buster Keaton’s 1923 comedy short The Balloonatic, co-written and directed with Eddie Cline.

This is a very episodic film…I found it “rambling” when I saw it, but on reflection the structure isn’t that out of line if you think of it as a fantasia, as so many of Keaton’s films are. The crux of it consists of some comical business at an amusement park, then Buster becomes adrift in a runaway balloon and comes down in a forested wilderness. Linking both episodes are Buster’s encounters with a girl (Phyllis Haver). Their “roughing it” adventures presage moments in later Keaton features like Battling Butler and The NavigatorThis film (Keaton’s penultimate silent short) features a favorite gag: in trying to shoot a bear in front of him, Buster accidentally fires his gun backwards, killing another bear behind him he didn’t even know was there!

For more on silent and slapstick comedy, including Buster Keaton classics like “The Balloonatic”, don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube

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