April 21 is the anniversary of the release date of the Buster Keaton feature Sherlock Jr. (1924).
While it didn’t do so well at the box office in its own time, Sherlock Jr. is today among Keaton’s best known and loved features, having influenced everything from Chuck Jones’ 1952 Duck Amuck to Woody Allen’s 1985 The Purple Rose of Cairo.
In the film, Keaton plays a young movie projectionist who falls asleep at work and dreams that he is on the movie screen. The main sequence is breathtakingly surreal as Buster is hurled between wildly disparate settings and locations, from a mansion to a city street, to the edge of a cliff, to a jungle, to a desert, to the ocean, to a snow-filled landscape. Meantime, in both his “real” life and in the film-within-the film, he solves a robbery and wins the heart of his girl (Kathryn McGuire). Many of the elborate gags in this and other Keaton films were inspired and originally worked out by the famous acrobatic family the Hanlon-Lees decades earlier. (I’m thinking especially of the one where Keaton leaps through a window in emerges on the other side costumed as a little old lady, all done in one shot).
For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new 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
To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.