Our Hospitality (1923) Director: Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton and John G. Blystone
With Our Hospitality, Buster Keaton delivers a delightful film –the second of his ten brilliant films produced under Buster Keaton Productions. Our Hospitality is more sentimental than some of his later films, such as The General (1926) or Sherlock, Jr. (1924). The vast luxury of rural southern plantation life is nicely captured, and the slapstick humor of a typical Buster Keaton film is wonderfully orchestrated, as well. As with most Buster Keaton films, Our Hospitality offers a perfect blend of humor, delightful story-telling, and simple sentimentality to make it a classic. This film comes highly recommended from this reviewer.
The setting takes us to Appalachia. It tells the story of the feud between the Canfield and the McKay families, an obvious spoof of the Hatfields and the McCoys, and out of fear of the dispute, the matriarch of the McKay family sends her son, Willie (Buster Keaton), away to New York where he is raised without knowledge of the feud. When his mother dies, Willie returns to the south to claim his inheritance. He arrives with a woman named Virginia who turns out to be a Canfield (played by Buster Keaton’s wife Natalie Talmadge). Upon arrival, Willie mistakenly asks a Canfield where the McKay estate is and the man tries to stop at each shop on the way to purchase a pistol in order to kill Willie. However, Willie escapes to find that his estate is more dilapidated than he had hoped, and Virginia invites him over for dinner.
The Canfield patriarch reassures his sons that welcoming in Willie will be “our hospitality” and a local parson also comes to stay for the evening just as it starts to rain, but Willie overhears about the danger he faces and he tries to escape while wearing a dress. A chase scene ensues which sees Willie tumble down a cliff, into a lake, tied together with one of the brothers, onto a train, and down a river. The scene ends when he floats by Virginia Canfield who is rescued in a famous scene while dangling at the edge of a waterfall, hanging precariously in the air. Yet again, it was actually Buster Keaton performing this dangerous waterfall rescue stunt.
The film ends when the Canfields give up the chase at dusk only to find Willie and Virginia embracing and the parson beckons a kiss to the bride below a “love thy neighbor” sign. This causes the Canfields to end the feud and Willie empties his pockets of all the Canfield guns he had stolen.
Our Hospitality was shot in California and Oregon, and some of the scenes featuring trains were precursors to Buster Keaton’s great film, The General (1926). Many of these scenes were even shot in the same locations as would be shot in The General (1926). Keaton nearly died in the Truckee River filming one of the scenes in Our Hospitality after his safety cable snapped. As in many of his early films, this dangerous scene remains in the final cut –Keaton was luckily saved by a branch as he happened upon a bend in the river. Also, in the climactic waterfall scene, Buster Keaton inhaled so much water that he needed to be medically treated –he very nearly drowned. Our Hospitality is the only Keaton film to feature both his father, as the train engineer, and his infant son who played a young Willie. Thus it was, appropriately, a whole family affair, rife with themes of homeliness and hospitality.