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Buster KeatonThe Buster Keaton 65th Anniversary Collection on DVD

Video may have killed the radio star, but long before that talkies killed their share of silent movie stars – or so we are led to believe.

One who made the transition was Buster Keaton, one of the greats of the silent era. His success after sound was spotty, but during the late 1930's he had a temporary niche with Columbia Studios, who were also home to the less cerebral Three Stooges.

The result, at least today, is this DVD collection that gathers ten of Keaton's Columbia shorts together into one package. The shorts are also spotty, at least as far as their laugh quotient is concerned (we thought the first one the best, and were disappointed to varying degrees in the rest), but it's also a fascinating look at Keaton and his style, including plenty of background information on the man and his craft.

Here's a list of the features:

Pest from the West
Mooching Through Georgia
Nothing But Pleasure
Pardon My Birthmarks
The Taming of the Snood
The Spook Speaks
His Ex Marks the Spot
So You Won't Squawk
General Nuisance
She's Oil Mine

Keaton, the "great stone face", is the best thing bout these features, and we would love to see his silent classics bundled with such a collection (though there are some available separately). He looks at tad worn out, but his timing and his physical comedy comes through well despite the scripts. One wonders how they'd work as silent films, since most of the dialogue doesn't really move things forward a lot. Still, some of the highlights include:

General Nuisance, in which Millionaire Keaton enlists in the army to win the affections of a woman who likes men in uniform. Alas, Keaton turns out to be more uniformed than uniformed in this very funny short. Nothing but Pleasure has a wonderful sequence in which Keaton is trying to get a drunk woman who wanders into his motel room into a Murphy bed, She's Oil Mine includes a great gag in which Keaton is spun around to get a pipe unstuck from his finger (there's another great sequence in the collection in which he's rolled down a street inside a tire, too).

Picture quality of this full frame black and white material is very good – sharp and crisp and clean, with good contrast. Audio is, not surprisingly, unremarkable, but that's what you get from low budget old stuff.

Extras abound, including commentaries for each of the 17 minute or so shorts, and there's also an interesting 25-minute documentary that gives you a look at the life of Keaton and includes info on his marriage of convenience with Columbia. It's actually quite honest in its take on the spotty quality of these shorts and – best of all – includes some excerpts from his silent shorts.

You also get a booklet that reproduces an actual annotated script from "She's Oil Here."

The Buster Keaton Collection from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
176 minutes, full frame (1.33:1), black and white, Dolby Digital mono
Starring Buster Keaton, Dorothy Appleby Elsie Ames
Produced and directed by Jules White

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

We welcome your comments!