If one dials down expectations, some of the Columbia shorts (around 16-17 minutes long) are enjoyable in the baggy-pants style of the Three Stooges. And when it comes to searching for signs of the old Keaton, there are usually one or two blossoms poking out of the overall bluntness. Mooching through Georgia, a Civil War spoof, has moments of silent hilarity and a Keatonesque note of fatalism as Buster is marched to his own execution. Nothing but Pleasure has a terrific sequence involving a drunk woman who wanders into Buster’s motel room, and Buster’s efforts to get her into a Murphy bed. She’s Oil Mine features a breathtaking gag in which Keaton is spun around like a tire iron in order to get a pipe unstuck from his finger. Keaton, in his mid-40s, is still in athletic form, although thanks to alcohol and disappointment he looks older than his years.
Commentaries adorn the shorts, and there’s a useful 25-minute documentary giving the general outline of Keaton’s life and details on the Columbia arrangement. It’s refreshingly honest about the mixed quality of these films, and contains excerpts from his silent shorts that suggest how far the genius had slipped. In that sense, while this DVD package honorably presents a moment from film history (and with fine technical specs all around), the actual watching of these shorts is tinged with sadness. The casual moviegoer curious about Keaton should go elsewhere; the completist will want it; the amateur historian will want to give a look to see what the “missing years” were all about. –Robert Horton
Product Description of Buster Keaton – 65th Anniversary Collection
Ten comedic shorts from the Great Stone Face himself, Buster Keaton, arrive on DVD for the first time ever in this must-own special two-disc set. The honorary Academy Award®-winner shines in rare films from Hollywood’s golden – and hilarious – years. Teamed with the brilliant comediennes Dorothy Appleby and Elsie Ames, Keaton bumbles from one side-splitting mishap to another, always maintaining his famously blank expression. Whether he’s a millionaire, a plumber, or a hat maker, Keaton’s physical antics and hapless adventures light up the screen in these unforgettable 1940s comedies. The Buster Keaton Collection will have you doubled over with laughter.