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With: Buster Keaton, Natalie Talmadge, Joe Roberts, Ralph Bushman, Craig Ward, Monte Collins, Joe Keaton, Kitty Bradbury, Buster Keaton Jr.
Written by: Jean C. Havez, Clyde Bruckman, Joseph A. Mitchell
Directed by: Buster Keaton, John G. Blystone
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 75
Date: 11/19/1923

Our Hospitality (1923)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Feud for Thought

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 1923 Buster Keaton made the jump from two-reel comedies to feature films. His first attempt was The Three Ages, which -- in the guise of spoofing D.W. Griffith's Intolerance -- combined three short films set in three different time periods. But the protection clause was that if the feature film failed, it could be chopped up into three shorts. Fortunately, it succeeded, and Keaton went into production on his second film, Our Hospitality, which is really his first with a feature-length plot.

Keaton stars as Willie McKay, a city slicker who has been raised far away from a terrible feud that has raged between his family and the Canfields. It's the 1830s. Willie travels to Kentucky to claim an inheritance, and meets a lovely young woman, Virginia (Natalie Talmadge, Buster's wife at the time), on the rickety train ride. Once he arrives, he learns that his inheritance is a shack, and, worse, learns about the feud. Still worse, he learns that Virginia is his "enemy," a Canfield. Fortunately, he also learns that the Canfields cannot kill him if he is a guest in their home, so -- in one inspired stretch of film -- he does everything he can to stay in the house as long as he can.

Of course, this plan can only go on so long, and Willie eventually escapes, but he redeems himself by rescuing Virginia over a waterfall; this is one of Keaton's most spectacular and breathtaking stunts. Even though Ms. Talmadge has been replaced by a dummy, it's clear that Keaton is really swinging across the face of the falls on a rope.

Despite all this good stuff, Our Hospitality isn't one of my favorite Keatons. He hadn't quite got the hang of directing a 75-minute feature, and it tends to drag in spots. Also, and perhaps more importantly, he was still using the one-dimensional types that worked in his two-reelers, but tend to become dead spots in a feature film. Thinking back over this movie, it's difficult if not impossible to name or describe any of the other characters besides Willie (even Virginia isn't terribly interesting).

However, everybody gets a grace period, and Keaton returned in 1924 with two of his greatest and most assured films, Sherlock Jr. and The Navigator. Meanwhile, Our Hospitality shows more than enough evidence of his genius. (By the way, that's Buster's baby son playing Willie as a baby in the film's prologue.)

Kino released all the Buster Keaton movies on DVD back in 1999, in the early days of the medium, and the quality doesn't look so good today. I happened to see Our Hospitality in a classroom recently, projected onto a big screen from the old DVD, and the digital blocks and pixels threatened to overtake the picture. Now, with the rise of hi-def and Blu-Ray, they are remastering the titles one by one, and this is their fourth release, and the fifth Keaton feature (after The General, Steamboat Bill Jr., and a double-feature of Sherlock Jr. and The Three Ages). Extras on this new release include a score by the great Carl Davis, a second score compiled by Donald Hunsberger, a documentary on the making of the film, an alternate, 49-minute cut; still galleries, and a two-reeler, The Iron Mule, directed by Fatty Arbuckle, in which Keaton has an uncredited cameo.

In 2019, Kino Lorber released a crystal-clear, restored Blu-ray edition, cleaning up all the scratches and flaws on the aforementioned DVD. Sadly, this release doesn't include either of the two earlier music scores, but does include a very fine new one by Robert Israel. There's a featurette about the making of the score, a commentary track by film historians Farran Smith Nehme and Imogen Sara Smith, a presentation by Serge Bromberg, a 1947 short film starring Keaton, A Duel to the Death, and the aforementioned The Mule. Jeffrey Vance provides a liner notes essay.

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