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The Saphead (1920).

December 3, 2010

The Scoop:
This early outing by comic legend Buster Keaton, his first feature, is anything but legendary.

Although he had a few successful shorts under his belt by 1920, he didn’t yet have the creative control that he would use to make his later, more classic films. So he got saddled with “The Saphead” by Metro. The story of the inept son of a Wall Street tycoon trying to get into the family business, this is the second film version of the 1913 play “The New Henrietta.” It has been filmed in 1915 as “The Lamb” starring Douglas Fairbanks, who also starred in the stage production. Metro originally wanted Fairbanks for the role again, but he wasn’t interested in playing it a third time., so he personally suggested Keaton for the part.

Because it wasn’t his own material, it doesn’t quite fit with Keaton’s unique comedic talents. Except for a couple brief moments, his usual derring-do is pushed aside for the kind of genteel comedy that played better then than it does now.

“The Saphead” is a film for Keaton completists only. But the film let Buster pay his dues and show that he could carry a feature film. That, in turn, led to his classic contributions to Hollywood history, so for that we should be grateful.

Best Bit:
Buster walking on the heads of a crowd of stock traders to get off the Stock Exchange floor.

Side Note:
Gloves and a hand double were used for some shots to hide the fact that Keaton was missing the tip of his right index finger. It was the only time in the silent era that Keaton used a double in any of his films.

Companion Viewing:
Any better Keaton outing, like “The General” (1927) or “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” (1928).

Commentary Track: Silent Reflections.

Take a Look:
The complete film:

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