Sherlock, Jr. (1924) Director: Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton
Buster Keaton is the master of cinematic comedy and Sherlock Jr is his best film. Not only does it bring the audience to uproarious laughter, but also the meta-textual meditation on the cinematic medium is laden throughout the film’s concept of a theatre projectionist who dreams of becoming a detective has no analogue. The shot transitions and special effects for the scenes when Keaton’s character jumps onto the silver screen are delightful and impressive for all audiences everywhere. Sherlock, Jr. is a magnificent film.
Keaton plays a movie theatre attendant/projectionist (he secretly wishes he was a detective) who buy a $1 box of chocolates but he amusingly changes the $1 to a $4 to impress a nearby girl. However he is taken over by a “local sheik” -a tough guy who steals the girl’s father’s watch and pawns it in order to buy another box of chocolates. The local sheik then plants the receipt in Keaton’s pocket and Keaton is forced to leave the girl’s house when her father discovers the receipt and blames Keaton. Distraught, he returns to his theatre and falls asleep in the projection room, while a film about a stolen pearl necklace plays below in the theatre. During his dream, Keaton crawls down into the theatre and magically climbs onto the move screen, appearing suddenly in several different scenes. Finally, he appears as Sherlock, Jr. at a gathering to recover the necklace and rescue his kidnapped paramour. He outwits the two men who stole the necklace in the film in a great car chase scene.
Back in reality, Keaton’s love interest discovers the truth (that Keaton is innocent) and she comes to Keaton’s theatre where he is awakened from his dream and he begins watching a film, seeking advice on how to win back his love interest. She confronts him and he subtly watches the film playing behind her in the theatre, which instructs him to gently hold her hands, placing the small ring on it, and kiss her. The next scene shows the actors in the film with a few children and Keaton is left looking “stone-faced” and confused now as a father.
The film was largely a bust when it was released, even after Keaton spent more time putting this film together than many of his others, but today it is largely recognized as a classic.
Keaton practiced for four months to learn all the trick pool shots shown at the end of the film, and the filming of the pool scene took five days to shoot. Additionally, Keaton was regularly known for completing his own stunts, such as in the scene with the water basin where he slipped and badly fractured his neck, nearly breaking it and killing him. This painful take was the cut used in the final version of the film.