100 Years Ago Today: Buster Keaton in “Neighbors”


Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Buster Keaton silent comedy short Neighbors (1920, released, according to some on the very same day as The Scarecrow).

The plot: Buster and his girl (Virginia Fox) are next door neighbors. They pass love notes through the fence that separates their yards. The notes are intercepted by parents on both sides in such a way that the mothers suspect the fathers of infidelity—much brouhaha results.

The film contains some of Keaton’s most storied physical comedy and mechanical gags. In one set-up he makes his escape from the girl’s bedroom on a clothesline, tumbles down the stairs of his own house, and is catapulted back to the other house where he knock down the girl’s father (Joe Roberts), from whom he had been trying to escape. In another, Keaton falls head first into a rain barrel. In what is perhaps the film’s most famous section he creates a kind of teeter totter on the fence, which allows him to remain out of the reach of cops. This kind of spectacular stuff is the acme of Keaton’s art, both physically and imaginatively.

For more on silent and classic screen comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.  

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