In November 1922 Buster Keaton released Daydreams, one of the last of his shorts.
Daydreams strikes me as not one of the strongest of Keaton’s shorts. It’s made up of lots of mini-situations…almost like a bunch of separate ideas for films they had, but couldn’t flesh out beyond a single scene. It feels a lot like those episodes of cartoons when, instead of a new cartoon, you get a framing device and then they show scenes from previous cartoons.
Also, this is very much a Lloyd situation. Buster wants the hand of a girl. He father deems him unworthy. So Buster vows that he will go the city, where he either make good, or kill himself. He takes a succession of jobs. When he writes letters to the girl he always misleads about his success. When he is a janitor he says he is “really cleaning up”. Claims to be head of sanitarium, just works in an animal hospital. Claims to work on Wall Street, just a street cleaner. Claims to be playing Hamlet in the theatre, just a spear carrier.
For some reason, about 50 cops start chasing him, as in Cops (maybe because he is on the street dressed in the spear carrier costume after being fired from the theatre). He jumps onto a trolley just to have it immediately return to its station, a gag he would revive in his 1928 feature The Cameraman. Then the film’s most memorable moment: where Keaton finds himself on the inside of a riverboat paddle wheel, compelled to keep moving as though he were a hamster on a treadmill. Finally he is thrown out into the water, where he is caught by a fisherman, who throws him back as though he were a bad fish. He is mailed back to the girl. Her father gives him a gun to kill himself with. Buster misses, so the father kicks him out the window.
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.