A young projectionist, Buster Keaton, yearns to be a detective. When he is framed by the Local Sheik, Ward Crane, he must put his new skills to work. Although, his childlike demeanor leads him to be less successful than his ambitions. While his skills lack in reality, he makes up for these short-comings once he enters dreamland.
It wouldn’t be a Buster Keaton film without the dangerous and ingeniously crafted stunts. Sherlock Jr. is no exception. From narrowly being smashed between two train cars to falling multiple stories onto the back of a car. Keaton appeared to cram as many stunts as he could think of into the various chase and escape sequences as possible. It is incredible that he was able to not only think of these for cinematic effect, but to also do them himself.
Apparently Keaton broke, or fractured, his neck during a scene in Sherlock Jr. where he is pummeled with water over a train track.1 The stunt can be seen here.
Keaton was an innovator for early silent film, much like his comedy contemporaries, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. Keaton’s ability to execute creative shot techniques are impressive even without considering the age of the film. Keaton’s use of double-exposures to create dream sequences with both his “real” body and his “dream” body in the same shot and then a perfectly executed sequence of cuts transporting Keaton through various film cuts are just one example of some of his technical prowess.
His timing and commitment to the various scenes that Keaton manufactures is what takes these already incredible sequences to the next level. The amount of work it must have taken to line up and properly execute the many stunts and trick photography must have been hard enough, but to have someone as talented as Keaton sell it to the audience in a way that also drove the story makes it even more incredible.
Even after almost 100 years, Sherlock Jr. is still able to captivate an audience and be laugh out loud funny. This is a testament to the Keaton’s ability to develop unexpected plot lines and stunts as well as perform them with pinpoint exaggeration.
Directed by: Buster Keaton
Cinematography: Byron Houck and Elgin Lessley
Story by: Jean C. Havez, Joseph A. Mitchell, &Clyde Bruckman
Edited by: Buster Keaton
Starring: Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Joe Keaton, Erwin Connelly, & Ward Crane
Genre: Action, Comedy, Romance
Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn Pictures
1 – Meade, Marion. Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase. New York, NY: Da Capo Press. 1997. ISBN0-306-80802-1. p. 145