Click #3 for a 3-D image (3-D glasses required).
As the silent era waned, it couldn’t have been easy being Buster Keaton. An onerous 1928 contract with MGM required the sad-faced star to learn his lines in multiple languages—and even use a stunt double. His wife divorced him in 1932, taking his massive fortune; alcohol was a lure, and he even did a brief stint in a psych ward, marrying a nurse who would also leave him at painful expense.
So it came as personal salvation when Keaton, a notoriously difficult hire, fell in with Educational Pictures in 1934. The threadbare outfit could only afford to give him tiny budgets to make 16 two-reel comedies, yet they promoted the shorts grandly, and in time, Keaton got his sea legs back. If you were making a biopic of Keaton that traced the giant’s downfall from icon status, this turnaround would be the start of your inspirational third act.
Collected here for the first time (with 14 making their DVD debuts), the movies are amiable diversions. Nothing is quite on the level of Keaton’s immortal The General, but to watch him take on baseball (“One Run Elmer”), wrestling (“Palooka from Paducah”) and even his own drinking (“Grand Slam Opera”) is to witness an artist getting back to basics and rebounding creatively. Kino’s two-disc package boasts clear digital restorations, a stills gallery and a fun musical montage of his famous pratfalls.—Joshua Rothkopf
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