Combustible Celluloid
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With: Buster Keaton, Edward Jobson, Beulah Booker, Edward Connelly, Edward Alexander, Irving Cummings, Odette Taylor, Carol Holloway, Jack Livingston, William H. Crane
Written by: June Mathis, based on a play by Winchell Smith, Bronson Howard, and Victor Mapes
Directed by: Herbert Blaché, Winchell Smith
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 77
Date: 09/01/1920

The Saphead (1920)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Yours and Mine

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Saphead is more historically important than it is aesthetically or artistically important. After appearing as a sidekick in Fatty Arbuckle's short films, Buster Keaton was cast in a kind of leading role, or at least a scene-stealing one in this feature film. Its success led to Keaton's remarkable career as an independent director and performer in his own films.

So while we owe a great deal to The Saphead, it's a slow, unfunny 77 minutes. Co-directors Herbert Blaché and Winchell Smith safely and routinely direct this adaptation of a play (by Smith, Bronson Howard, and Victor Mapes). Keaton plays a spoiled, wealthy young man who is na�ve in the ways of the world; a role he would go on to play more interestingly in movies like The Navigator. The patient viewer is only rewarded by a couple of good Keaton gags in the final stretch (many of them as his character tries to learn the ins and outs of the stock market). The rest of the cast and characters are at best forgettable and at worse interchangeable. I lost track of the plot -- having to with a silver mine -- a few times, but clearly there's only one reason to be watching this.

I was prepared to bet that Kino would have included this as an extra on one of their new, remastered Buster Keaton DVDs and Blu-rays (perhaps on The Navigator, which is still in the pipeline), but here it is on its own disc. I don't predict brisk sales, since even the most die-hard Keaton completists can really do without it. It comes with an alternate version, assembled from slightly different takes, though the final experience is much the same.

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