Go West (1925) Director: Buster Keaton
A sentimental comedy of the Old West, Buster Keaton’s Go West is a delight. Here we find the great stone face’s clear precursor to his magnum opus The General (1926) as we drop into the world of ranches, cowboys, cattle, and, most importantly, trains (Keaton had a life-long fascination with trains). Much of the film was shot in Arizona in extremely hot weather –when it reached over 120 degrees the production crew was forced to store the camera in a bucket of ice. In later years, Buster Keaton never looked back fondly on Go West, though it was a box office success upon release.
Go West tells the story of an unsuspecting hero, Friendless (Buster Keaton), who ventures westward to become a cowboy. He sells his possessions in the city and is unable to find a job thus he heads out west and befriends a cow named “Brown Eyes” who protects him from a bull attack. In the end, he saves Brown Eyes from certain death after leading a herd of cattle through the city of Los Angeles. Friendless saves his rancher employer and demands to have “her” (to which the rancher assumed Keaton is referring to his daughter, but in fact, Keaton points over to the cow, Brown Eyes). It is the closest film in Buster Keaton’s repertoire to match the sentimentality of a Charlie Chaplin picture (some have speculated that the more sentimental tone was due to the deaths of several of Keaton’s gag men shortly before the film’s release). It can also be interpreted as a parody of D.W. Griffith films, indeed at one point Buster Keaton mimics Lillian Gish’s sorrowful finger smile as featured in Broken Blossoms (1919).
I thought Go West was a fun cowboy satire, albeit a more sentimental flick than others in the Buster Keaton collection. Interestingly enough Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, the leading comedy man who initially helped Buster Keaton get into film-making, makes a small uncredited cross-dressing cameo in this film. He had fallen on hard times when in 1921 a young woman had accused Arbuckle of rape. The ensuing trial caused a public scandal which destroyed his career and marriage, and led to years of alcoholism. He has since been exonerated, but the damage had already been done. Thankfully, he still had friends like Buster Keaton.