Our Hospitality (1923) Director: Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton and John G. Blystone
Buster Keaton delivers a delightful film with Our Hospitality -the second of his ten brilliant films produced under Buster Keaton Productions. It is more sentimental than some of his other later films, such as The General or Sherlock, Jr. The vast luxury of rural southern plantation life is beautifully captured, yet the standard slapstick humor of a 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, as well as a pleasure to watch. This film comes highly recommended from this reviewer.
It tells the story of the feud between the Canfield and the McKay families, an obvious allusion to the Hatfields and the McCoys, and out of fear of the dispute, the mother 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 and rides with a woman named Virginia who turns out to be a Canfield (played by Keaton’s wife). Upon arrival, he 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 to kill Willie. However, Willie escapes to find that his estate is more dilapidated than he had hoped, and Virginia invites him to 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 what kind of danger he faces and he tries to escape wearing a dress. A chase scene ensues that follows Willie down a cliff, into a lake, tied together with one of the brothers, onto a train, and down a river. It ends when he floats by Virginia Canfield who is rescued in a famous scene at the edge of a waterfall, dangling precariously in the air.
The film ends when the Canfields give up the chase at dark to find Willie and Virginia embracing and the parson beckons the patriarch to kiss 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. Many scenes were even shot in the same locations. Keaton nearly died in the Truckee River filming one of the scenes after his safety cable snapped. This dangerous scene remains in the final cut of the film –Keaton was luckily saved by a branch and a bend in the river. Also, in the climactic waterfall scene, Buster Keaton inhaled so much water that he needed to be medically treated. It is the only Keaton film to feature both his father, as the train engineer, and his infant son who played a young Willie.