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Buster Keaton





Metro Pictures Corp., 1920.  Directed by Edward Cline.  Camera:  Elgin Lessley.  With Buster Keaton, Joe Keaton, Joe Roberts, Sybil Seely, Al St. John, Luke the Dog.

Buster and Joe Roberts play farmhands who share a one-room house that is filled with surprising time- and space-saving devices:  the phonograph doubles as a stove; the bookcase also serves as the icebox; and the bed converts into an upright piano.  Breakfast involves a series of strings dangling from the ceiling, which pull down to an assortment of condiments that the two men swing back and forth to each other over the breakfast table.

Buster had built similar Rube Goldberg-like contraptions as a boy at his summer home on Lake Muskegon, Michigan.  He made them for his own amusement, as well for a lazy vaudevillian neighbor named Ed Gray, who hated to make any unnecessary movements.  The devices created in The Scarecrow are similar to those he built as a boy, and this scene is the film's cleverest routine.

Domestic harmony changes to rivalry as the two men both try to win the affection of the farmer's daughter, played by Sybil Seely.  Buster is soon diverted from romance when he is chased by a dog (Fatty Arbuckle's Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Luke) and gets thrown into a hay-processing machine, which tears away his clothes.  Borrowing the clothes of a nearby scarecrow, Buster kneels down to tie his shoe when the farmer's daughter encounters him.  She mistakes his kneeling position for a formal marriage proposal, which she accepts.  As the two race off on a motorcycle to elope, they accidentally take on an extra passenger—a parson who pronounces the couple husband and wife as the motorcycle is accidentally driven straight into a lake.

Buster Keaton Remembered,
by Eleanor Keaton and Jeffrey Vance
Harry N. Abrams (April 2001)