Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Buster Keaton comedy Battling Butler (1926).
Some background: Keaton’s recent feature Go West had not done so well, so his producer (and brother-in-law) Joe Schenck exercised a little authority and dictated his next couple of projects. Battling Butler was based on a hit stage play of the same name that had starred Charlie Ruggles.
The film finds Keaton playing the same sort of character we find in The Saphead, Seven Chances and The Navigator, a rich, useless young man, whose father sends him camping to make a man of him. In short order he falls in love with a mountain girl. In order to impress her and her rough, tough family with his manhood he misrepresents himself as another man who has the same name who happens to be a boxing champion. Little of Keaton’s full scope of ingenuity is in evidence in the film. It has almost nothing distinctive about it except a few small gags. Yet it was Keaton’s most financially successful feature. This ironic fact would not bode well for Keaton’s future and ongoing independence as a film-maker.
To learn more about comedy film history 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 learn 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.