Steamboat Bill, Jr, is a movie. It has nothing to do with Steamboat Willie, the first-ever Mickey Mouse short that came out the same year. Okay, maybe there is, but I don’t know the context aside from both movies having boats….I have no idea. Anyways, it has Buster Keaton in it. it was okay.
A college kid comes home and helps his dad run a boat. His dad gets arrested leaving the kid in charge. The film follows antics that come from such a thing.
I’m going to preface this review by saying I am not a film expert by any means. Everything that I write here is essentially my reactions to what I’m seeing on the screen and what I feel why I watch it. If I find something boring, even if it’s just something I don’t understand or get, I’m going to note it and examine why. If I’m lost in the story, I’m going to note it, even if I run the risk of just looking like an idiot.
This film is filled with acclaim. Buster Keaton is recognized as being one of the best figures in not just this era but of all time. In reading reviews of this film there’s nothing negative stated and people even attribute Keaton to being a genius for this film. I’m not going to downplay any of this especially as these reactions are coming from people who know more about this stuff than I do.
With that said, I can’t help but personally compare Charlie Chaplin to Buster Keaton. I’m sure I’m far from the only one. Keaton is seen in a certain way amongst film guys, and while Chaplin is also acclaimed there is a vibe that Keaton is the guy you like if you REALLY like films, but to the average film viewer I can’t help but think that Chaplin feels more famous, his character feels more timeless and I have legit laughed at moments in a Chaplin film than I have in a Buster Keaton film. I don’t downplay Keaton’s talent and I’ve only watched this film of his and the short Cops (which I enjoyed), so I’m not familiar with a lot of his work.
This film, however, didn’t click with me at all. While I saw the talent of Keaton, and I could see his on-screen charisma, and I could definitely see why he was so popular within the context of his time, as I watched it from a 2023 context, I just didn’t really find it funny and truthfully I had a tough time pinpointing all the moments that were supposed to be funny.
If I compare it to a Chaplin film as well, I feel like the supporting characters in Chaplin movies always perform well and really add to both the story and the comedy. There are times when choreography from Chaplin feels so well-orchestrated, and it’s pleasing to watch. To me, Keaton feels very much the center of attention, and while that’s fine, in this movie, I just didn’t feel like he did enough to warrant that level of attention. While I am impressed with the stunts in general that Keaton does in general, I feel there could have been more and there could have been more slapstick. The film, for me, just generally became hard to follow and there just felt like there weren’t enough gags.
I give it an okay rating because I can see Keaton’s charm (at least what would be charming in 1928), but watching through my eyes, I didn’t really enjoy the film. Maybe I need to give it another try but there just wasn’t enough ‘magic’ for me in this film.
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