Sunday, June 3, 2012

The best Sherlock of all may just be Sherlock Jr.

My blog should be temporarily renamed "Swimming in Silents". I have yet another silent film to rave about. (Though I suppose I should underscore why. It has to do with a family movie festival we've embarked on for the summer. We are working our way through classics -- best films, actors, directors, and genres -- enjoying as many great films as I can get my hands on starting 110 years ago with 1902's "A Trip to the Moon" and working our way forward in time.)

Last night's entry: Buster Keaton in "Sherlock Jr." from 1924. I do get tired trying to come up with new ways to say "this was shockingly great entertainment," because it's the sentiment I keep needing to express. "Sherlock Jr." is seriously, just really, really good. I can't wait to watch it again. The plot is sweet and clever and the artistic vision expressed is tight. A phenomenally well-made film for any era.

Although we didn't find it side-splittingly hilarious, like Harold Lloyd's "Safety Last!", this one was probably the better film for having an extremely well-developed idea which travelled with the film from start to finish, as well as enduring themes that are both charming and true. And it was funny. A delightfully complete film.

The story begins with our hapless hero, who works as a projectionist at the theater, daydreaming of being a great detective. He shows his mettle early on, when he finds a dollar in the pile of trash he's sweeping up. He gives the dollar to the lovely woman who comes looking for it (after asking her to "describe it"), then gives his own dollar to another person who has lost one, and finally digs energetically through the pile as a third man who comes looking finds a whole wallet in the trash.

At his girlfriend's house later, to which he has gone with chocolates and proposal, he is framed for the theft of her dad's watch and kicked out of the house. Returning to his job, he dozes off at the projection booth and dreams himself into the movie where he assumes the character of Sherlock Jr., the amazing detective brought in to solve a very similar crime of the stolen pearls. The scenes where his ghostlike sleepwalking self goes into the picture are phenomenal. Even by modern standards, they are evocative and clever; the camera tricks that allowed this and the subsequent scenes where the background keeps changing on him are fun to speculate about. These scenes are integral to showing us he doesn't really belong in that movie; he's an outsider living a fantasy. This movie within a movie allows us to explore themes of fantasy and the role of cinema magic that was taking such an important hold of people at this time and which clearly persist to this day.

With Keaton playing the regular downtrodden guy in one and the fabulously crafty detective in the other, he really gets an opportunity to show his charm and strengths as a performer. While Sherlock Jr. plows through the hills and streets in and around LA (on the handlebars of a driverless motorbike for a while), and while he plays pool skillfully avoiding the ball that has been rigged with explosives, the film moves a bit like James Bond; he has all the tricks and skills and saves the lady and finds the thieves. Though a lot funnier and more bumbling than Bond, Keaton here is truly as attractive and appealing a hero. The scenery is amazing. I wish I knew where this was filmed. (I smell an internet research project coming on).

The movie's spark comes from the very intelligent themes underlying it - I love the ending scenes where "the Boy" is taking his romantic cues from our leading man on screen and has a priceless look of confusion when the screen characters sit holding twins.

I couldn't possibly recommend this film more highly. Even to those, like me!, who do not consider themselves silent film fans, it is very watchable and entertaining. And moves as such a crisp perfect pace (at only 3/4 of an hour long) that it is hard to think of a reason not to.

No comments:

Post a Comment