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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Keaton Marching To Metro Drum

Love and War As Depicted In The Spanish Version of Doughboys

Buster Falls In a Doughboys (1930) Ditch

The minorest tweaks could have made a good picture out of Doughboys. I'm surprised Keaton hadn't used the Great War as subject for one of his own silent features, as he'd been through the real thing and certainly had ideas (some of which were implemented in Doughboys). His wealthy idler of The Navigator and Battling Butler was back, so from standpoint of character, this would not have rung alarm bells, at least in conception. What tripped Doughboys, among several things, was sound. It was Keaton's second talkie, kinks inherent to all of Metro's waiting yet to be ironed out, fun not enhanced by too much noise and way too much Edward Brophy as a braying sergeant in non-stop assault on the microphones. This last is a particularly disagreeable aspect of Doughboys. What seemed funny on open-air location would be harsh upon listening ears when played back on film. Combat explosions could enhance harrowing drama of All Quiet On The Western Front, done the same year, but cacophony here deadens Doughboys humor.


Metro effort was applied, just the wrong kind. Wit with words Al Boasberg was high paid by vaudevillians for whom he wrote --- his stuff considered gilt-edged --- but story-screenplay contributor Boasberg was no enhance for Doughboys. And yet --- it's clear he and other writers consulted Keaton's silent playbook, as the plot in a paragraph would not have been amiss to comedies Buster had made for himself. A basic flaw to MGM's approach was reducing Keaton's character to hapless pawn of circumstance. His prevailing must come of dumb luck. Resourcefulness that was most pleasing aspect of silent Buster did fast fade as "Elmer" became his screen identity. There's much of BK tangled in uniform and fallen in mud; we lose patience fast with Doughboys' awkward squad.


Of that group beyond Keaton, there were others Metro let fun-make, all  distracting from Keaton. It was a policy that would culminate in Jimmy Durante, talent- searching for ones who could be made funny by microphones, a hazardous guessing game so early in talking progress. Much of yap that clicked, or seemed to, in recording sessions would lie flat before audiences. Such was risk on Brophy and also Cliff Edwards, who was at least softer-spoken and OK when served by teaspoons. But hard-chargers was what someone at Metro liked, thus Polly Moran and Durante (sometimes both) to come along later and throw off Keaton axis for keeps. Still, Doughboys has good ideas and long as we must pick favorites of his MGM's, it ranks on a top half. Rudi Blesh called Doughboys "86-proof Keaton and very good" in a book he wrote with BK's participation, so I wonder if Buster didn't endorse this opinion. We can damn the Metros from eighty years distance, but must also acknowledge succe$$es they were. Would comedies done Keaton's way have been so?

4 Comments:

Blogger Reg Hartt said...

What's Buster MGM sound features had that his silent films lacked was access to Loews' theaters which were the cream of theaters (MGM being the film producing arm of LOEWS as Paramount was the film producing arm of Famous Players).

The arrogance that resulted in the destruction of Keaton is still today alive in the bureaucracy of all the studios. Talents suffers as long as schedules are met.

For me the worst part of watching these is thinking of how Keaton must have felt trying to get better films made but being told over and over, "But Buster, we must be doing something right because these films are making more money than your silent ones did. They are what the public wants." Add to that mix a dingbat of a wife who had been told by her family having babies was animalistic so no more sex. Keaton's real life life at this time was a horror show.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Watch DOUGH BOYS again and you'll see party guys Buster and Cliffie in various stages of impairment. When Cliff is fine, Buster thrusts his head forward and his jaw goes slack (that's the signal he's been drinking: he's straining to hear the other person). In the last reel, Buster is urgently speaking to Cliff, and Cliff is blissfully stoned and barely gets his lines out.

Buster tried to spark interest in a sequel to DOUGH BOYS in 1942, reuniting the original cast and director, but Mayer and company said no.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

From what I remember of reading about Keaton's great silents, they weren't necessarily big money-makers. A hit with the critics, but too hip for the room (or the movie theatre). If they had been hits on the scale of Chaplin or Lloyd, maybe he wouldn't have felt the need to join Metro.

All I know is that watching "What! No Beer?" was one of the most painful movie-related experiences I've ever had.

12:09 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer sees an aspect of MGM Keaton not noted before:


You'll notice in some of the stills that Keaton used the grime of the trenches as an excuse to adapt the stylized, clown-like makeup he wore in the finale of his first talkie, "Free and Easy," especially the dark grease outlining the tip of his nose and nostrils. Was this an attempt to create a new kind of visual signature? I don't believe that he ever used it again.

9:48 AM  

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