This is a very episodic film…I found it “rambling” when I first saw it, but on reflection the structure isn’t that out of line if you think of it as a fantasia, as so many of Keaton’s films are. And, as a defender of the rambling comedies of Larry Semon, perhaps I ought to cut him slack (that’s a balloon rope joke). The crux of this little comedy consists of some comical business at an amusement park (starting with a delightful spook house feint), then Buster becomes adrift in a runaway balloon. Back in the days before rampant litigiousness and America’s addition to insurance, balloon rides were a common diversion at fairs and amusement parks. It’s natural for the contraption loving Keaton to be drawn to these picturesque conveyances for one of his comedies, for they have inspired many a whimsical work from Around the World in 80 Days and The Wizard of Oz (the latter of which, like Keaton’s own legend, also features Kansas and a tornado).
After many skyborn misadventures the montgolfier comes to rest in a forested wilderness. Linking both episodes are Buster’s encounters with a girl (Phyllis Haver). Their “roughing it” adventures presage moments in later Keaton features like Battling Butler and The Navigator. This film (Keaton’s penultimate silent short) features a favorite gag: in trying to shoot a bear in front of him, Buster accidentally fires his gun backwards, killing another bear behind him he didn’t even know was there!
For more on silent and slapstick comedy, including Buster Keaton classics like “The Balloonatic”, don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube