Monday, October 19, 2015

CMBA Blogathon: Buster Keaton's "Our Hospitality"

This is my entry in the Classic Movie Blog Association Planes, Trains and Automobile Blogathon. Click HERE to view more fabulous entries about our favorite modes of transportation in film.



Buster Keaton loved trains.  “The General,” one of his most famous films, is about a man’s love for his train; a love that transcends his love for (an admittedly dopey) woman. Keaton found ways to incorporate trains in short films, long films, early films and late films. One of my favorite sight gags of all time – from Keaton’s 1920 short “One Week” – involves a locomotive. Check it out if you’ve never seen it. It never gets old.





But by far my most favorite train in all of Keaton’s films is the recreation of Stephenson’s Rocket for his first feature length film, 1921’s “Our Hospitality.”

The real Rocket

Buster plays Willie McKay, a dandified youth living in pre-Civil War New York. Unbeknownst to Willie, his family, the McKays, were engaged in an epic family feud with the Canfields for decades down South. Willie’s mother, now deceased, wanted to raise her boy away from the feudin’ and fightin’ and moved up North without ever telling her boy that the Canfields were the McKay’s mortal enemies. Twenty years later we find Willie, a true innocent, living with his aunt in the big city.

Willie gets around New York City on his Gentleman's Hobby Horse



One day Willie gets a letter informing him that he is heir to his father’s estate. Willie dreams of a great Southern mansion and immediately prepares to head down South. His aunt tells him of the feud, but Willie is determined to collect his inheritance. His method of transportation will be the train. This train.



Keaton and his team built a replica of Stephenson’s Rocket and train becomes one of the film’s most endearing characters. Based on the time period, he said that had a choice between the Rocket and The DeWitt Clinton and chose the Rocket because it was funnier looking. It also had personality. It was genteel, it was homey, it constantly jumped the tracks and magnified every bump and dip in its path. It was a modern mode of transportation that retained the elegance of an earlier time. The New York to Appalachia trip is beautifully photographed. There is a loving, nostalgic quality to the journey, as seen in Willie’s little dog follows the train to be with his master.

On this charming, unique and faintly ridiculous train, Willie meets, Virginia, the lady of his dreams. Unfortunately, he doesn’t learn until much later that Virginia’s last name is Canfield. After a harrowing, bumpy, dirty, and wholly delightful train trip, Willie and Virginia are in love. Virginia, also innocent of Willie’s pedigree, invites him to dinner to meet her family… a family that consists of a father and 2 brothers who remain rabid for McKay blood.


Willie and Virginia: Strangers on a Train

Willie, of course, is oblivious at first as the brothers try to rub him out. But, they are inept and Willie is just plain lucky. After many hilarious attempts on his life that are thwarted by Willie’s clever escapes, the 2 families finally bury the hatchet (sort of) when Willie bravely rescues Virginia from a raging river. In one of Keaton’s greatest stunts, he clings to a tree branch as it sweeps across the river, managing to pluck the drowning Virginia out just as she was almost carried over a waterfall. Willie and Virginia marry and the brothers lay down their arms (but Buster has a few pistols concealed in his coat – just in case). Oh, and, of course, Willie's inheritance was a shack.


Willie must always keep one eye open when the Canfield Boys are around

“Our Hospitality” was a real Keaton family affair. In the prologue, Buster’s infant son, Buster, Jr., played Willie as a baby. Virginia was played by his wife, Natalie Talmadge. While Natalie as not a star like her sisters Norma and Constance, she is quite lovely here and very convincing. The Engineer, who had to put up with much harassment on his journey, was played by Buster’s father, Joe Keaton, and it is a treasure to see them perform together.


3 generations of Keatons: Buster, Jr., Buster and Joseph Keaton

As Stephenson’s rocket roams the American landscape, navigating tracks laid over logs, rocks and gullies, Keaton’s eye for beauty is on full display. The journey and the mode of transportation are one: modern with an appreciation of the past. Keaton loved the steam that takes us places, but also loves the beauty and serenity of all of the places on the way.








21 comments:

Rick29 said...

Fine review of a a charming Keaton classic and I love the photos. Your description of the train as "genteel: and "homey: is perfect. It was also visually the perfect train choice for OUR HOSPITALITY.

Caftan Woman said...

As charming an article as Buster's feature itself. Willie and Virginia's train journey is not one I would care to attempt myself, but it is a source of onscreen delight.

theblondeatthefilm.com said...

Great review! I loved seeing the pictures from the movie, especially of that ridiculous and amazing "train!"

Amanda Garrett said...

Great review! Buster and trains were made for each other. I've never seen this movie so I'm looking forward to watching it.

Silver Screenings said...

That train is awesome. I almost burst out laughing when I saw the photo you posted. "Genteel", indeed!

This sounds like another wonderful Buster Keaton film. Thanks for adding this to the blogathon. I must, MUST see this.

Silver Screenings said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FlickChick said...

Hi Rick! I know everyone loves "The General," but this by far my favorite Keaton train.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, CW. Yes, their journey was hard, but Virginia had such an adorable shoulder to lean on.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Blonde. Keaton went to great pains to make a replica of the Rocket. It seems almost impossible to think this train actually traversed the countryside.

FlickChick said...

Hi Amanda. I hope you do get to see it. It is my favorite Keaton film - so heartwarming.

FlickChick said...

Ruth - you should try to catch this one. And it was genteel, don't you think?

The Lady Eve said...

What a charmer this seems. Without having seen it I can understand, through your description, why it's your favorite Keaton movie. I love the train (and the bicycle, too) and the fact that Keaton's family took part.

FlickChick said...

Lady Eve - it is, indeed, charming. It combines Keaton's fascination with mechanics and gadgets with his great warmth and humanity.

Citizen Screen said...

Lovely tribute to Buster and "My Hospitality" Marsha. I saw this again a few weeks ago and you capture the magic beautifully. What a talent Buster was! Fantastic choice for the blogathon.

Aurora

FlickChick said...

Hi Aurora - thanks so much for stopping by. It is a magical film, isn't it?

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

A great entry for the blogathon. It's true, as you've pointed out, that THE GENERAL is usually referenced on Buster Keaton's love of trains, but your choice of OUR HOSPITALITY is a great look at Keaton's reverence and ingenuity. Well done.

Leah Williams said...

That train is amazing, and I loved knowing that's why he chose it! The General is my favorite so far; I loved how much of a starring role the train received in that film; it sounds like I'm in for many of the same joys here:)

FlickChick said...

Thank you for stopping by, Jacqueline.I know "The General" is "the one," but this train is just so darn cute!

FlickChick said...

Leah - this film just blew me away when I saw it and it immediately became my favorite Keaton.

Christian Esquevin said...

Leave it to Buster Keaton to rediscover this train (and the bicyle too) as a mode of haphazard and dangerous transportation. I'll look for the opportunity to screen this Keaton film based on your informative and charming review FlickChick.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Christian. Yes - that bicycle is so charming - and so is the way he uses it to navigate the awful traffic of late 19th century Manhattan.