GO WEST (everything by Buster Keaton, 1925, 69 minutes) & BATTLING BUTLER (everything by Keaton what else is new, 1926, 68 minutes) have to both go here because I am tired of offering confusing reviews on these double-bill DVDs.
GO WEST was BK's homage - some say parody of - Charlie Chaplin films. I disagree strongly. BK was fond of parody and occasionally parodied Chaplin, but not here. For some strange reason, Keaton said this was his "best film". Apparently not his favorite film, which is also considered his best: The General (Enhanced) 1927. Here BK is "Friendless", a drifter from Indiana who ends up going West to cattle ranch. This film is excellent in that it shows the cruelty of ranching.
Essentially this begins with Friendless falling in love with a very sweet cow named Brown Eyes - and he ends up successfully herding 1,000 head of cattle to the stockyard in Pasadena. (Though this was filmed on location in L.A., people always erroneously say it takes place in L.A.) There is so much hilarious fun I won't spoil anything. How can I? This film features innovative work such as the cow-mounted camera work and BK's uncanny ability with cattle.
As in College (see my review), this film shows a terrible momentary camera flare due to the sun. I suspect BK shrugged it off, unable to do anything about it, but it would never again appear on his films. It also has a hair-raising train ride and a cute ending that will have you rolling on the floor. I do not know why critics dismiss this fine work.
BATTLING BUTLER (BK at the helm again, 1926, 68 minutes) is one of the darkest and most haunting of Buster Keaton's films. This movie inspired not only the comedy ARTHUR but was also studied by Scorsese for RAGING BULL. Here BK plays millionaire playboy Alfred Butler, who falls for a gal and also discovers a rising boxing star whose name is Alfred Butler, called "Battling" Butler.
To impress his gal and her family (because in those days money meant nothing I guess), Alfred tells them he is the boxer "Battling" Butler. In a complicated and gothic plotline, poor little Alfred is sucked into the world of prizefighting and training hard. Here, as with GO WEST, BK is determined to show cruelty: the cruelty of the boxing world. As he does his dance with the real boxer's identity, he inadvertently gives the wrong impression with the other Alfred's wife.
BK shows up ringside to watch some training and encounters the boxer's wife again - he had met her when she injured a heel and he gave her a ride. He asks, "How's your heel?" She points to the ring and says, "He's alright." Does that ever look bad! Funny! Like the mean, snarling villain BK played in his 1922 short FROZEN NORTH, here he steps out of his usual zone to give a terrific performance. Like his formal wardrobe, he is noble, stiff and formal. No porkpie could possibly enter this - yet his girl's brother wears one. That BK!! Never a dull moment.
He of course marries his sweetheart near the beginning of the film, so the rest is all the tension mounting. It is unbelievable and prescient of Hitchcock in its suspense. The dean from COLLEGE here plays BK's trusty and troublemaking butler Martin. Not only does BK do his crying/foot-stamping routine to great effect here for the first and only time since his silent shorts; he also shows some serious acting chops in the great finale fight between himself and boxing Alfred. He kicks butt and looks vicious - there is no comedy at all in that harrowing scene.
Only a word of caution: this film is sometimes panned by certain critics and I see it is not as popular as it should be. This has the most complex, fascinating story/plot of any of BK's films. If it lacks comedy, it is because BK was pushing some new frontiers as always. Do not rebuke his memory or refuse this film just because it leaves the comfort zone. What do you think Buster Keaton's whole life was about anyway?!
The viewer can examine the whole list of Keaton's Golden Years of film, and watch them all. What pops out is this: BK's 'life-motif' in his movies is that the average Joe can achieve his American Dream - no matter what that dream is. You learn from BK that you must find what's really important - whether it is a girl, a cow or a job - after that, anything's possible and you can do what you wish.
Buster Keaton always pays homage to every American, to the American spirit. He IS the original American spirit. He is THE American film master, the master of all time, and he IS comedy. You'll see that American spirit here and in films such as COLLEGE, Our Hospitality: ULTIMATE EDITION (which makes BK America's Jane Austen) and THE GENERAL (see my reviews of all his greats).
You cannot call yourself a film fan and miss either of these two classics. Or for that matter, miss any of Buster Keaton's golden classics. You miss out on BK, you might as well give up watching movies.