Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Buster Keaton feature Our Hospitality (1923).
Our Hospitality may be called Keaton’s first true feature as director (with co-director Jack Blystone), his previous feature The Three Ages having been a tricky assemblage of three related shorts. True to form, Keaton came flying out of the starting gate at full speed.
The setting is the antebellum American south; the situation a Hatfield and McCoy type feud. The main comic set piece has Buster as the son of the murdered John McKay, unwittingly trapped in the house of the rival Canfields at the invitation of its patriarch’s daughter (Natalie Talmadge, soon to become Keaton’s wife). The gag is that the Canfield’s southern manners won’t permit them to murder young Willie McKay while he’s in the house, so he must keep devising ways to remain there. Delightful comic touches include a comic steam engine train on a hilariously uneven track, a Times Square that’s just a couple of cow paths, and a hair-raising rescue at the edge of a waterfall. This is Keaton’s first historical feature, and he brings the same sort of meticulous care to historical detail that he does to the physics of a pratfall. Costumes, sets and props are all accurate, even when they appear so comic that we assume they’re made up, such as the tiny revolver Buster carries, or the ludicrous-looking proto-bicycle that he rides.
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