Keaton’s third feature is a breathtakingly virtuosic display of every silent comedy technique imaginable, from his own formidable physical skills to some then-groundbreaking camera trickery.
“Still a delight to watch... it clearly illustrates the crossroads of several traditions of American film and stage comedy, mime, satire and parody that Keaton embodies.”
Andrew Horton, Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr, 1997
While there is endless debate as to which is the funniest of Buster Keaton’s 1920s features, there’s little doubt as to which is the cleverest. Anticipating Jean-Luc Godard and postmodernism by decades, the detective fantasy Sherlock Jr. largely takes place inside the head of a hapless and wronged cinema projectionist (Keaton) who – in a sequence that’s a technical marvel to this day – dreams himself into the screen only to be flummoxed by the film’s editing. But that’s merely one relatively early set-piece out of dozens, including a stunt so dangerous that it broke Keaton’s neck – something he wouldn’t discover until a routine medical examination over a decade later.
Always a fan of film technology, Keaton here pushes film special effects to their then limits, though some of the most effective moments make use of old-fashioned vaudeville stage mechanics – such as the moment when he leaps “through” his disguised assistant to evade pursuers.
Keaton’s many acolytes range from Jacques Tati to Jackie Chan, while Samuel Beckett chose him to embody a bewildered Everyman in his sole cinema project Film (1965).
25 critics voted for this film
1 director voted for this film