Sherlock Jr is just over forty minutes long, weirdly short for a feature, because Buster Keaton, the director and star, was an obsessive editor, and here has excised anything that even a hardhearted skeptic might consider fatty, which is great for the average viewer, since the movie feels richer and funnier for its tightness, compressed into a kind of comedy gem, but it’s also super convenient if you’re ever trying to convince a stubborn friend that they’ll like a silent movie. You can assure them that it’s not even a full hour long, is in fact just barely longer than an episode of Family Guy, and afterward you can have all the sex you like, I promise, just first we need to watch this movie.
Keaton’s character is earnest and lovelorn and loses the affection of a woman he’s courting (Kathryn McGuire) when a second suitor frames him for theft. Dejected, he returns to his job as a projectionist and falls asleep. Most of the movie’s action unfolds in a dream sequence – but not an annoying dream sequence. It’s a charming narrative within a narrative. A ton has already been written about the special effects in this movie. There’s a scene where, while dreaming, Keaton walks into a movie screen and takes part in the action. I don’t need to add my appraisal to the fray. It’s good to watch.
I like this movie a lot but I don’t have anything interesting to say about it except that, as I learned from subsequent reading, Keaton apparently fractured his neck during production. It was while he filmed the water tower gag. He complained of migraines for days thereafter but didn’t learn about the fracture until he got an x-ray years later.
Also: I read Jay Salerno’s big biography of J.D. Salinger a couple years ago and it shows that Salinger, as a young man, was in love with a woman named Oona and that he courted her obsessively for quite a while before Charlie Chaplin, their senior by decades, came and swept her off her feet. They got hitched and had a ton of kids. Salinger was crushed.
I’m a little drunk and no Chaplin is not in this movie, but it does feel pertinent.