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  Our Hospitality Feudin' And A-Fightin'
Year: 1923
Director: Buster Keaton, John G. Blystone
Stars: Buster Keaton, Natalie Talmadge, Joe Roberts, Ralph Bushman, Monte Collins, Craig Ward, Joe Keaton, Kitty Bradbury
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In the early eighteen-hundreds in the Appalachians, a feud erupted between two families, the Canfields and the McKays, which though it had petty beginnings ended up in murder on both sides, and seemingly ended when the last McKay was shot dead outside his house, though not before he put a bullet in one of the last Canfields. But that McKay had an infant son, and his widow placed the baby on the first stagecoach to New York City all the better to keep him out of harm's way, where he was brought up by his aunt. Now twenty-one years of age, he (Buster Keaton) receives news from a lawyer still down south that he can now claim his inheritance, the land his father owned, so off he goes to secure his birthright in person...

Our Hospitality was not Buster Keaton's first feature length comedy, that was Three Ages released the same year as this, but that had essentially been assembled from three different shorts, for the short form comedy was what he and his contemporaries had specialised in and found their worldwide fame in. But they were all keen to be ambitious, and not wishing to be left behind, Keaton made this, lasting a good hour and a quarter and detailing a proper narrative that lasted that long. This said, it retained a three act structure, starting with a surprisingly dramatic opening, running to the sort of humour of the stonefaced "little man" that his fans loved, then unleashing an action-packed finale to send the audience away feeling they had their money's worth.

It was a mark of his confidence that he was able to build to that incredible climactic set of stunts while still being content with the little gags that many of his lesser known contemporaries would have been satisfied with for their outings. Not Harold Lloyd, for example, a comedian whose exertions matched Keaton's for their frequently death-defying bravura, but Keaton, while working in the same arena (Lloyd's similarly rural Grandma's Boy was his hit around this point), somehow went on to be more lasting in the minds of the general public, despite both of them retaining an unpretentious charm. Maybe Keaton had his tragic post-silents existence to lend his story resonance, but even setting that to one side, you could tell from this otherwise modest excursion that he was doing nothing by halves.

That plot had it that Willie, his character, travels down to his inheritance in the company of fellow passenger Virginia (Natalie Talmadge, Keaton's wife at the time who also became an alcoholic once they split), neither of them aware that they should be at each other's throats because she is a Canfield. Having various adventures along the way, they fall in love and she invites him over to the mansion of her father (Joe Roberts, Keaton's favourite heavy who sadly died shortly after this was made) who absurdly refuses to shoot this new paramour of his daughter's as he is technically a guest in his home. But outside the home? He and his sons are dead set on making Willie dead, something he cottons on too all too late. What brought about the happy ending were those stunts, involving the train, a cliff, a length of rope and rapids leading to a waterfall and one of the most amazing tricks in Keaton's filmography; yes, he nearly died making this, but in his unassuming way he took that in his stride, as long as he had his movie at the end of it, he was content. For a comedy, he made funnier productions, but his agility was stunning.

[This is available on Eureka's Buster Keaton: 3 Films Volume 3 Blu-ray set.
Just look at the masses of special features you get:

Our Hospitality: Presented in 1080p from a 2K restoration
Go West: Presented in 1080p from a 4K restoration
College: Presented in 1080p from a 2K restoration
Our Hospitality: new audio commentary by silent film historian Rob Farr
Hospitality [55 mins]: a shorter work-print version of Our Hospitality, presented with optional commentary by film historian Polly Rose
Making Comedy Beautiful [26 mins]: video essay by Patricia Eliot Tobias
Go West: new audio commentary by film historians Joel Goss and Bruce Lawton
Go West: new video essay by John Bengtson (Silent Echoes / Silent Traces / Silent Visions) on Go West's filming locations
A Window on Keaton [28 mins]: new video essay by David Cairns
Go West [1923, 12 mins]: short film
College: video essay by John Bengtson on College's filming locations
The Railrodder [1965, 24 mins]: produced by the National Film Board of Canada and starring Buster Keaton in one of his final film roles
The Railrodder: optional audio commentary with director Gerald Potterton and cameraman David De Volpi
Buster Keaton Rides Again [1965, 55 mins]: documentary feature produced concurrently with, the filming of The Railrodder
Q&A with Gerald Potterton [55 mins]: audio recording of a post-screening Q&A with The Railrodder director Gerald Potterton, and David De Volpi
Stills Galleries
PLUS: A 60-PAGE perfect bound collector's book featuring new writing by Philip Kemp; essays on all three films by Imogen Sara Smith; a piece by John Bengtson on the filming locations of Our Hospitality; Gerald Potterton's original treatment for The Railrodder; and an appreciation of Keaton and The Railrodder by writer and silent cinema aficionado Chris Seguin.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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