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Battling Butler

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Battling Butler (1926) starring Buster Keaton, Sally O'Neil, Francis McDonald
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Battling Butler (1926) starring Buster Keaton, Sally O’Neil, Francis McDonald


Buster Keaton remarked that Battling Butler was his favorite of all his films. Based on a Broadway play, the story revolves around a case of mistaken identity between two Alfred Butlers. One is an effete millionaire (Keaton), the other the heavyweight champion of the world (Francis McDonald). Coincidence brings them to the same backwoods Kentucky neighborhood, where Keaton finds love with a mountain girl. But not before antagonizing Butler-the-brute into a Madison Square Garden grudge match.

Review of Battling Butler

In short, Battling Butler is a hilarious silent film by Buster Keaton. It’s very funny, very fast-paced, with a lot of heart mixed in. The valet, Snitz Edwards, is outstanding as a foil to Keaton’s Alfred Butler. The movie does an excellent job of showing, not telling. For example, early on in the film, it’s apparent that Buster Keaton’s character is incredibly pampered. For example: while smoking a cigarette in the home, the valet takes the cigarette out of his mouth. He then taps off the ashes into an ashtray. And puts the cigarette back in his mouth!

But the likable pampered young man doesn’t stay pampered for long … not once he meets and falls in love with Sally O’Neil. And his “helpful” valet thinks up the idea of having him pretend to be the boxer, Battling Butler. Why? To overcome her families objections. And soon that “little white lie” causes one complication after another …

I truly enjoyed Battling Butler — it’s laugh out loud funny.I truly enjoyed it, and hope that you do as well.

Funny movie quotes

  • And so Alfred went out to rough it, leaving the city behind — there was no other place to leave it.
  • [On the hunting trip, after having seen a deer, quail, racoon, fox] There doesn’t seem to be a thing here to shoot.
  • [After having nearly shot Sally O’Neil by accident] Isn’t she pretty?
  • [To Sally] Have you any more brothers or fathers?
  • Valet: Some prize fighter has taken your name, sir.
    Alfred: Arrange to stop it.
  • Alfred: I’d like to marry that pretty mountain girl.
    Valet: Shall I arrange it?
  • Sally: When are you going to fight again?
    Alfred: When I’m drafted.
  • Alfred: [to Sally] I want you to know me as I am — not as the brutal, blood-thirsty beast that I am when fighting.
  • Drive carefully. These country folk may not be used to city speeds. [followed immediately by the “country folk” passing them, driving like maniacs]
  • After Sally fights with Battling Butler’s wife: That woman says she’s married to you too!
  • [the actual Battling Butler, teasing Alfred about the upcoming fight] Don’t forget your date Thanksgiving.
  • [Battling Butler, talking about Alfred] If he wants to be Battling Butler, let him fight the Alabama Murderer, and he’ll never flirt with anybody else’s wife.
  • By dinner time the only thing Alfred had on his mind was his stomach.
  • Martin the valet: [Having summoned the ambulance to the arena before the fight] I thought it best to prepare for the worst, sir.

Comedy highlights

  • While fishing, having a battle of wits with a duck … and losing.
  • The campground table sinking into the ground as Buster and Sally are leaning on it … and since they’re falling in love, they’re both oblivious to it.
  • Memorizing his marriage proposal from an “advice to the lovelorn” column in a newspaper. Only to rip it up & throw it away when Sally says “yes”.
  • The valet pantomiming the lie that Buster is a famous boxer.
  • Buster, in the audience as the real Battling Butler is boxing in the ring, being “assaulted” by the enthusiastic manager.
  • The parade for the “wrong” Battling Butler. Which ends up with the wedding ceremony for Alfred and Sally.
  • The extended “training camp” routine. To keep up his charade, Alfred has to go to Battling Butler’s training camp. Where he gets in trouble with the actual Battling Butler. And then his wife Sally shows up …
  • The two Mrs. Butlers fighting over a box of candy, “Compliments of Mr. Butler”.
  • Battling Butler decides that, if Alfred wants to impersonate him … then Alfred can fight The Alabama Murderer!
  • The training sequence
    • Getting into the boxing ring.
    • Sparring routine, including having his glove tied to the rope. This type of scene has been filmed many times – but never funnier!
    • The entire running routine is hilarious.
  • Trying to sneak out of the arena before the fight on another man’s stretcher.

Editorial review of Battling Butler courtesy of

BATTLING BUTLER (1926): Keaton stars as Alfred Butler, a fragile young man whose father sends him into the country where he hopes masculinity will blossom. Ironically, he is there mistaken for ”Battling” Butler, a renowned prizefighter of firey temperament. To impress a young lady (Sally O’Neil), Alfred carries on the ruse by engaging in a laughingly inept training regimen, but his harmless charade is soon complicated by the untimely arrival of the true contender (Francis McDonald). When the long-awaited opportunity to prove himself a man finally comes, it is before the gloved fists of the boxer, who initiates a locker-room brawl. There, in a sequence of agonizing tension and delightful surprises, Battling Butler reaches its unforgettable climax.

Trivia for Battling Butler

  • The close-up of Keaton’s hands as he opens the box with the wedding ring was shot with a double. Buster Keaton was missing the tip of his right index finger.
  • Released in the same year as what is considered to be Buster Keaton’s finest film: The General. Ironically, while this film attracted less than glowing notices, it became Keaton’s biggest hit. While The General was a monumental flop.
  • This film was one of Martin Scorsese’s biggest inspirations in getting the “feel” of the boxing scenes in Raging Bull. Particularly (and most likely) from Buster Keaton’s surprisingly realistic, climactic fight. Scorsese called Keaton “the only person who had the right attitude about boxing in the movies”.

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