Watching Old Movies: Sherlock Jr (1924)

1924

 

What happened this year?

Stuff happened! Lenin died, the Ottoman Empire was abolished, J Edgar Hoover became head of the FBI, Mercedes-Benz was formed by a merger of two different companies, famed movie studio MGM was created and someone invented the Caesar Salad!

One of my favourite stories that did caught my eye though was that of Harry Grindell Matthew’s failed attempts to convince people that he had managed to invent a death ray. Despite his attempts to demonstrate the ray, the British War Office didn’t buy his claims and refused to buy the weapon. Which is an almost tailor-made Silver Age supervillain origin, fyi. I have no idea how this didn’t end up with Grindell Matthews going on a crime spree and attempting to blow up Big Ben before being stopped by Batman. Aside from, you know, the ‘death ray’ in all probability being just a confidence scam.

(Although, weirdly, Grindell Matthews did end up going to work for Warner Bros Studio at some point, so… WB might have a death ray in their vault?)

Anyway, as far as births go, there were a few. Benny Hill, Lee Marvin, Robert Mugabe, Marlon Brando, Lauren Bacall, Truman Capote and two US Presidents (George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter). Make of that what you will. In the meanwhile, time for comedy. And one of Buster Keaton’s most well-regarded films…

 

Sherlock Jr

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Plot:  Buster Keaton plays Buster Keaton as a theatre projectionist who dreams of being a famous detective. After being framed for stealing a pocket watch by ‘the local sheik’ (which was apparently a thing in 1920’s America?), Keaton dozes off during the playing of a movie and, in his dream, ends up imagining himself as the hero, the titular Sherlock Jr, solving a case that bears a certain similarity to the one he’s already caught up in…

Trivia: Buster Keaton practiced for four months, working with a pool expert, to learn all the trick shots that Sherlock Jr. performs during the pool game. Nevertheless, it took him five days to film all the trick shots, and get them right. When he was finished, all the best trick shots he had filmed were cut together to make it look like Sherlock Jr. was playing one continuous game of pool.

Helped Inspire: Same stuff as mentioned on The Goat’s page. Also possibly Last Action Hero. Can’t confirm that though.

 

My Thoughts:

So, once again I’m stuck watching a Buster Keaton comedy and, once again, it was genuinely a ton of fun. And, honestly, I loved this movie even more than The Goat. While that movie was almost a perfect example of the old silent film era of slapstick comedy and the hilarity, this movie goes even further and has the sort of inventive camera trickery and choreography that I thought wasn’t just inventive for a slapstick comedy, but is inventive for movies period. I laughed my ass off during the ‘quick scene transition’ stuff in the movie theatre scene and I’m surprised more modern movies haven’t tried anything like that.

Really, almost everything I liked about The Goat was here except sharper, more refined and more inventive. Stuff like the motorcycle chase, the car boat, the pool table scene (which apparently was not faked, Keaton pulled off every single one of those shots (albeit separately and edited together)) all had me both in stitches and marveling at the ingenuity shown.

If I had to pick any real flaw it’s that, like The Goat, it doesn’t really have much of a plot. But, then again, unlike The Goat, it does bother to have an actual plot conclusion, so that’s a plus. But either that doesn’t really matter much, because this movie is all about the comedy. And on that point, I’d say it more than hits the mark. As such, I’m giving it a nice strong A.

 

Rankings:

1. Sherlock Jr- A

2. Nosferatu – B+

3. Safety Last – B+

4. The Goat (1921) – B+

5. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) – B-/C+

 

Alright, enough comedy, time to get back to the actual classics. In this case, probably one of the most famous silent films of all time, a pioneer in regards to the formation of cinematic language and one of the earliest films of one Sergei Eisenstein…

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ve got something in my eye…

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