Welcome to the Memorial Film Collection of Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton may have passed away in the distant past, but thanks to an enthralling, good old invention called Film, he will never be really gone.
Whenever you feel like traveling back in time to meet the Great Stone Face, to witness his incredible stunts and deadpan expression, all you have to do, is watching one (or more) of his movies.
But which ones should you watch?
Well, if that’s the very question lurking in your mind right now, then you came to the right place. We’re just about to present the 13 Best Movies of Buster Keaton.
If this is your first ride on the time-travelling FrameTrek Wagon, here’s what this is all about:
We choose a topic, in this case: “Best Movies of Buster Keaton”, and we set sail for a journey, where the bricks of the trek are made of movie frames, and each stop represents a magnificent achievement in Film.
The Best Movies of Buster Keaton is an episode of FrameTrek’s Hall of Legends: A mega-journey dedicated to identify the greatest artists of World Cinema, and their most significant works.
Meet Buster Keaton, the Great Stone Face
(1895 – 1966)
Buster Keaton, also known as The Great Stone Face, was one of the most important artists of the Silent Era. He was an actor, film director, producer, screenwriter, stunt performer, and a master of physical comedy.
Being a child of vaudeville performers, he was only three years old when stepped on stage for the first time. Later on, he and his parents performed as the acrobatic group called The Three Keatons.
When he turned 21, he entered the motion picture business, and rapidly made a name for himself.
His onscreen character, referred to as the Little Fellow, wears slap-shoes and a porkpie hat. He never smiles, and consistently has a stoic, deadpan expression on his face, thus earning him the nickname The Great Stone Face.
He also shows tremendous determination and loads of physical energy to meet the challenges of the crazy world around him.
Being a relatively short guy, he usually cast tall and bulky actors as his antagonists, just to create a disadvantageous and helpless situation for his character to overcome. This same trick was often used by Charlie Chaplin as well.
They say pantomime’s a lost art. It’s never been a lost art and never will be, because it’s too natural to do.Buster Keaton
Keaton performed all of his stunts, and he was often the stunt double of other actors in his films as well. Soon he became a Hollywood stunts legend, not only because of the scenes he did but also his lack of injuries.
So yeah, there’s plenty to talk about, when it comes to Buster Keaton, but this article concentrates on his Top 13 Films, so let’s cut to the chase, shall we?
After all, an actor is as good as his greatest achievements. Thus, the finest way to familiarize yourself with Keaton, is through watching his best films as a marathon.
Ready? Buckle up then, and let the best movies of Buster Keaton carry you to the cinematic lands of slapstick comedy!See FrameTrek's definition of 'Best' and the story behind this List (click to expand) ↴
How to define ‘Best’?
That’s a pretty good question, since ‘Best’ is relative. A movie can be considered being among the best for multiple reasons, such as: Critical Acclaim, Audience Feedback, Box Office Performance, Awards and Nominations, Iconic Status, Popularity, Watchability, and even Personal Preference, or for being part of a famous list such as the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die or Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies list – or because that particular movie defined its era, or because it was a defining achievement of the artist(s) involved.
So how did we pick the Top 13 Movies of Buster Keaton?
Well, it wasn’t simple, and it wasn’t easy! Keaton headlined so many excellent films, that it’s almost impossible to build a “Top List”, without leaving some of his great movies out of the spotlight. We did our best though.
While composing the Best Films of Buster Keaton list, we tried to consider all of the factors mentioned in the ‘How to define Best’ paragraph above, and then some.
We believe that the movies that made the cut should not compete with one another any further, so we will just present them in the order they were released in.
If you watch these movies in a chronological order, you will embark on a cinematic journey through Buster Keaton’s life, following him from the start of his career to the end.
Presenting the 13 Best Films of Buster Keaton
One Week (1920)
Story: A newly wedded couple attempts to build a house with a prefabricated kit, unaware that a rival sabotaged the kit’s component numbering. (IMDB)
Why is One Week among the best films of Buster Keaton?
✓ This is the first film to be released made by Keaton on his own
✓ Also the first movie to shoot while the camera is revolving a full 360 degrees.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Story: A series of mishaps manages to make a young man get chased by a big city’s entire police force. (IMDB)
Why is Cops among the top movies of Buster Keaton?
✓ One of Keaton’s most iconic and brilliantly-constructed short films.
✓ Deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.
Three Ages (1923)
Story: The misadventures of Buster in three separate historical periods. (IMDB)
Why is Three Ages among the top films of Buster Keaton?
✓ The first feature length movie that Keaton wrote, directed, produced, and starred in.
Our Hospitality (1923)
Story: Buster falls in love with a girl on the train to his hometown and accepts her dinner invitation, only to find out that her family has vowed to kill every member of his family.
✪ During the shooting of the climatic waterfall scene, Buster Keaton inhaled so much water that he had to have first aid.
Why is Our Hospitality among the greatest movies of Buster Keaton?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ It was a groundbreaking work for the comedy film genre, as Keaton included “careful integration of gags into a dramatically coherent storyline”, “meticulous attention to period detail” and “beautiful cinematography and extensive location shooting”.
Sherlock Jr. (1924)
Story: A film projectionist longs to be a detective, and puts his meagre skills to work when he is framed by a rival for stealing his girlfriend’s father’s pocketwatch. (IMDB)
✪ The dream sequence, where Stone Face enters the “movie within the movie”, required a real technical genius and a master director on set – both being Buster Keaton.
Why is Sherlock Jr. among the greatest films of Buster Keaton?
✓ The Library of Congress selected Sherlock Jr. for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ It is included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
✓ One of the most popular silent movies of the 1920s cinema, and a timeless classic.
The Navigator (1924)
Story: Two spoiled rich people find themselves trapped on an empty passenger ship. (IMDB)
✪ The ‘Navigator’ ship featured in the movie was an actual boat, and the entire cast and crew lived on board for the whole duration of the filming, a total of ten weeks.
Why is The Navigator among the best movies of Buster Keaton?
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
✓ Included among the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
Seven Chances (1925)
Story: A man learns he will inherit a fortune if he marries by 7 p.m. that same day. (IMDB)
Why is Seven Chances among the best films of Buster Keaton?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ One of Keaton’s most successful films, and an all-time silent comedy classic.
Go West (1925)
Story: With little luck at keeping a job in the city a New Yorker tries work in the country and eventually finds his way leading a herd of cattle to the West Coast. (IMDB)
This is one of the strangest of Keaton’s films, focusing on a nearly romantic relationship between a man and a cow called “Brown Eyes”.
✪ In order to achieve comic chemistry between human and animal, Keaton personally trained the bovine performer. During shooting, production ground to a halt for two weeks when Brown Eyes went into heat.
Battling Butler (1926)
Story: A love-struck weakling must pretend to be boxer in order to gain respect from the family of the girl he loves. (IMDB)
✪ As a preparation for the fight scenes, Keaton rented a gym and invited his friend, the world welterweight champion Mickey Walker, to help him plan his moves.
The General (1926)
Story: When Union spies steal an engineer’s beloved locomotive, he pursues it single-handedly and straight through enemy lines. (IMDB)
Brilliantly filmed and fueled with classic physical comedy, The General captures Buster Keaton at his timeless best.Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus
✪ The final battle scene sparked a small forest fire around the river. Buster Keaton, his crew and the extras stopped filming to fight the fire.
Why is The General among the top movies of Buster Keaton?
✓ It is included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ Selected into the National Film Registry in 1989 for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ The American Film Institute ranked this as the #18 Greatest Movie of All Time.
✓ Keaton stated multiple times this was his favorite of his own movies.
Story: The Great Stone Face is a bookworm who condemns all sports. Unfortunately, his girlfriend’s attitude is just the opposite. Afraid of losing her to an athlete, Stone Face goes to college with the intention of becoming a first class athlete himself.
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)
Story: Steamboat Bill Jr. (Keaton) is the complete opposite of his father in every way. He is utterly inept as a crew member on the boat and he is dating the daughter of his father’s greatest rival.
This was the last film of Keaton’s independent production team and set of gag writers. His studio was shut down and he ended up moving to MGM.
Why is Steamboat Bill, Jr. among the top films of Buster Keaton?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
✓ Over the years, the film has become regarded as a masterpiece of its era.
The Cameraman (1928)
Story: Buster is so obsessed with a charming office girl at MGM that he decides to impress her at all costs, so he becomes a cameraman only to photograph the film that would make the girl fall for him.
✪ This was the first movie Keaton made after his own studio was shot down and he signed on with MGM as an actor.
✪ After this film, MGM took away Keaton’s creative control over his pictures, thereby causing drastic and long-lasting harm to his career.
Why is The Cameraman among the greatest movies of Buster Keaton?
✓ Added to the National Film Registry as being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
✓ Upon release, the film was a critical success and a box office hit.
✓ MGM’s writing department used the film to train new writers as a “perfectly constructed comedy” for decades.
The end of Buster Keaton’s Story
According to Buster Keaton, joining MGM was the worst professional mistake of his life. Being an “actor only”, the lack of creative control over his movies was unbearable for him.
As a fading silent film icon, he wanted to take on the challenge of becoming a talking star, but MGM did not allow him. His popularity began to rapidly decline and he began to run out of money.
As he slowly developed a dependence on alcohol, his behavior became erratic, and sometimes, violent. In the early 1930s, Buster was so depressed and out of control that his wife sued him for divorce and MGM fired him.
Being penniless and aimless, he became a full-fledged alcoholic and ended up in various hospitals where they attempted to treat his dependency.
He spent the next several years of his life working on low budget shorts and finding work where he could as an uncredited, underpaid gag man.
In 1940, he remarried, and 10 years later, he landed a minor role in a major movie, which rekindled public interest in his silent films. He spent the rest of his life going on world tours and appearing on television screens.
Keaton passed away in 1966 at age 70 due to lung cancer. He died quietly at home, in his sleep, shortly after playing cards with his wife, who remained his companion and partner until the end.
If you’d like to dig deeper into the story of Buster Keaton, you may want to read his autobiography My Wonderful World Of Slapstick.
…end of the reel…
So there you have it: The 13 Greatest Films of Buster Keaton
If you want to take a look at the movies listed above, without all that info between the titles, here’s a quick recap:
Legacy of the Great Stone Face
|One Week (1920)|
|Three Ages (1923)
|Our Hospitality (1923)
|Sherlock Jr. (1924)
|The Navigator (1924)
|Seven Chances (1925)
|Go West (1925)
|Battling Butler (1926)
|The General (1926)
|Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)
|The Cameraman (1928)
Is there a movie on the list you’d replace with another one? Share your thoughts below.
Are You in Love with Silent Comedy?
Check out FrameTrek’s Little Black Book of Silent Laughter
It presents the life stories of the the top three comedians of the Silent Era, their greatest achievements, and a few, little known facts about their private life, work and style.
…available on Amazon both as eBook and Paperback…
Thank you for your sharing. I am worried that I lack creative ideas. It is your article that makes me full of hope. Thank you. But, I have a question, can you help me?
Thanks for sharing. I read many of your blog posts, cool, your blog is very good.
Your article helped me a lot, is there any more related content? Thanks!