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Our Hospitality (Blu-ray Review)

12 Mar, 2011 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Street 3/22/11
Kino Lorber
$29.95 two-DVD set, $34.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Buster Keaton, Natalie Talmadge, Joe Roberts, Joe Keaton.

With his stone face, Buster Keaton doesn’t fit the mold of slapstick funnyman. Considered the most physically adept of all comedic actors in history (he did all his own stunts), Keaton ranks along Charlie Chaplain as a legend in silent films.

Our Hospitality (1923) represents one of Keaton’s first feature films (and directorial effort) following earlier work in Keystone Kop shorts. Produced by Keaton’s own studio and distributed by Metro Pictures (the initial “M” in the subsequent Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer venture), Hospitality features Keaton as Willie McKay, a youthful dreamer who heads west after inheriting a house (really a shack).

Unbeknownst to Willie, his family has been involved in a generations-long feud with the Canfields, with the latter out for revenge. So naturally, on the train ride, Willie falls for Canfield’s daughter (played by Keaton’s then-wife Natalie Talmadge).

The appeal of Our Hospitality, of course, is not the story, but Keaton. Specifically, his impressive pratfalls, facial expressions, site gags, extraordinary timing, narrative and filmmaking qualities. The film, which features a cinematic first exploding dam and hanging from cliffs and waterfalls, and a runaway locomotive engine, was shot on location on the Truckee River near Sacramento and 500 miles away in Keaton’s Los Angeles studio.

Much of what Keaton learned filming Hospitality he put to perfection three years later in The General — widely considered not only his finest film but Keaton’s favorite as well.

The disc includes a digitally re-mastered film featuring new music conducted in 1984 by Carl Davis and performed by the Thames Silents Orchestra, a 19-minute short “The Iron Mule” featuring the same locomotive, a making-of documentary, a 49-minute alternative cut titled Hospitality with an explanatory introduction and organ score by Lee Erwin, and photo galleries.

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