Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Go West (1925)

The western gets tweaked in this silent comedy from Buster Keaton. Instead of a horse or a sweetheart, Buster becomes attached to a Jersey cow (played by “Brown Eyes,” a distant relative of Elsie the Borden cow), who follows him through a series of deadpan adventures.

Following Horace Greeley’s advice to “Go West,” Buster hops a boxcar full of barrels and is deposited sometime later in the midst of sand and sagebrush. Soon he is employed at a cattle ranch, where he is put in charge of the milking. Placing a bucket under a cow’s udder and waiting for the milk to flow, he’s puzzled when he doesn’t get results. When he tries to ride a large mule without cinching the saddle, the outcome is predictable.

He somehow arrives at the supper table each day just as the meal is over. In a card game with two cowpokes he objects to a deal from the bottom of the deck. The dealer’s response is to “smile when you call me that.” Pistols are drawn, but Buster’s is so small it falls to the bottom of his holster.

There’s plenty of real gunplay when the cowboys from another ranch attempt to stop a train full of cattle from getting to market. Buster ends up alone on the train, headed for Los Angeles with all the cows.

A long, inspired sequence involves Buster and his herd of cattle loose in the streets and sending citizens fleeing in all directions. Firefighters somehow become involved, turning their fire hoses on a detachment of policemen. Finally, rounding up the cows and getting them headed to the stockyards requires the wearing of a red devil’s costume.

While a few moments of the slapstick comedy are forced, much of the film is still laugh-out-loud funny after all these years. Keaton, who seems to have taken all his own pratfalls, blows, and spills, must have been black and blue after a day’s shooting. His rough humor and blank expressions actually wear better with time than Chaplin’s comic sentimentality.

Go West is currently available at netflix and amazon. Jazz musician Bill Frisell has recorded a soundtrack for the film, which is currently available at amazon. Overlooked Movies is a much-appreciated enterprise of Todd Mason over at Sweet Freedom.

Coming up: Harold Bell Wright, The Winning of Barbara Worth (1911)


  1. I'm so glad you reviewed "Go West", as it's one of Buster's films that doesn't get discussed very often. I'm a fanatic for Buster Keaton-- have seen every single one of his films several times-- and I always thought "Go West" had some terrific sequences.
    Buster did indeed do all his own stunts. He actually broke his neck once filming a scene, but didn't even realize it until his doctor told him a YEAR later. He was just used to aches and pains...
    Have you seen "The General"? I bet you'd really like it.

  2. lol. sounds like it's worth watching. I've never seen this, though I have heard of it.

  3. Buster Keaton still rocks.

    I was looking at The Winning of Barbara Worth the other day and debating about whether to get it. When I saw that the book is coming up for discussion on your blog, it decided me. Thanks, Rob!

  4. Buster Keaton was a funny guy and his humor will stick with me to the end.

  5. Heath, good to find another Keaton fan; THE GENERAL is a classic, for sure.

    Charles, Keaton in my opinion will outlast Chaplin.

    Bybee, BARBARA WORTH is coming tomorrow.

    Oscar, my sentiments exactly.