SHERLOCK, JR. (1924) B/W "silent" 57m dir: Buster Keaton
w/Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Joe Keaton (Buster's father), Erwin Connelly, Ward Crane, Horace Morgan, Jane Connelly, Ford West
Keaton may have made funnier films, or even more profound ones, but nothing touches this, the definitive silent-comedy meditation on the meaning of cinema. Fast-moving and surreal, it hasn't dated a bit. And it's wildly hilarious.
From Georges Sadoul's Dictionary of Films : "Buster, a film projectionist, is falsely accused by his girl friend's (McGuire) father of stealing a watch. At work, he falls asleep and dreams he is a famous film detective on a similar case. ... Although perhaps not Keaton's most well known film, this is one of his perfectly realized pieces of imperturbable frenzy. Rene Clair, in 1925, drew attention to the surrealistic aspects and added, 'The remarkable Sherlock, Jr. was a kind of dramatic critique comparable to Six Characters in Search of an Author , which Pirandello wrote for the theater.' In 1947, Clair wrote: 'Keaton, in the role of a film projectionist, fell asleep, slid down the beam of light from his machine, entered the screen, and took part with the characters in the drama being played out there. Subsequently, the unfortunate dreamer got lost in the middle of a world whose face changes in an unforeseen manner around him. Diving off a high rock to save a blonde heroine struggling in the waves, he landed on desert sand under the astonished gaze of a lion.' J.A. Fieschi finds 'the dream embracing, and finally taking the place of, reality, with the synthesis resolved in the world of the screen, a world at once acted in and observed by Keaton and true to his actual situation. At the same time he offers one of the most perfect definitions of our art.'"
From the website Filmsite (www.filmsite.org), this background about the film by Tom Dirks:
"Sherlock, Jr. (1924) is stone-faced director/producer Buster Keaton's marvelously inventive, short silent film era, comic fantasy --- his third and shortest feature film (after a series of two-reel shorts in the early 1920s). It is filled with the comedian's trademark physical gags, intricately-choreographed and acrobatic vaudeville stunts, visually-witty humor and amazing special effects (an explosive billiard ball, a trap door, etc.). This spoof of detective films is the first of Keaton's feature films solely directed by himself, after his co-director stints in Three Ages (1923) and Our Hospitality (1923). It is a remarkably proficient and well-edited technical film with considerable 'movie magic,' demonstrating some early, innovative in-camera tricks (such as jump-cuts, super-imposition or double-exposure).
"Compared to the other silent clowns of the early film era, Keaton's risk-taking slapstick comedy is more physically-oriented, emotionless, violent and visceral. Charlie Chaplin's films are more overtly thematic, with social commentary and satire, pathos, sentimentality and political engagement, as evidenced in films with his Little Tramp character, including The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), and Modern Times (1936).
"The main point of Keaton's imaginative narrative in this celebrated classic is about dreams and reality (portrayed in parallel narratives of the cinematic world and the real world). All of the actors who have roles in the framing story also take corresponding roles in the fantasy sequence. The hero dreams himself into a detective movie that mirrors his real-life troubles. In a sense, Keaton's objective was to present a satirical tribute to the power of the movies to glamorize reality (Hollywood's Dream Factory) --- to inspire escapist dreams, to let us live vicariously through film characters, to identify with film stars, or to project one's hopes and wishes onto the screen (or in our mind's eye).
"Three highlights in this landmark film are the astounding, rapid scenery-cuts sequence when he first steps into the film (it is one of the earliest examples of a 'movie in a movie' or 'film within a film'), an amazing railroad stunt (that fractured Keaton's neck, discovered years later), and an incredibly risky driver-less motorbike ride.
"The inexpressive-faced Keaton stars as a humble Walter Mitty-type character --- a lovelorn film projectionist (and janitor) simply named The Boy who dreams of becoming a renowned master detective (Sherlock Jr.) and takes a correspondence course to study the art of crime-fighting in 10 sessions. The modest Boy is wrongly accused (framed) of stealing the watch of his girlfriend's (Kathryn McGuire) father (Joe Keaton, Buster's real-life father) by the actual thief --- the deceitful 'local sheik' (Ward Crane) who is a rival for his girlfriend's attention.
"Afterward, he falls asleep in the theatre during the screening of a film --- a drawing-room mystery about a stolen pearl necklace. He dreams that he enters the film's screen as his dream-self and joins the action of the characters --- his sweetheart and the rival. He becomes master sleuth Sherlock Jr. and solves the crime of thievery by proving that his rival stole the watch. However, in the real-world version of the story, the Girl is the one who unearths the truth and returns to him at the end of the film to apologize for her false accusation. In the final boy-gets-girl sequence in the projection booth, the flustered 'detective' follows the cues of the leading-man actor on the silver-screen and kisses his girlfriend.
"Keaton's work inspired two similar fantasies: Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) with Jeff Daniels and Mia Farrow, and the under-rated action/adventure parody Last Action Hero (1993) with Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as the work of numerous other directors including Wes Anderson."