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Go West / Battling Butler - Blu-ray Review

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Battling Butler / Go West - blu-ray review

4 stars

For the past year and a half, Kino International has been steadily releasing their acquired Buster Keaton catalog on blu-ray.  Each release is a bit better than the one before it; from artwork to restoration.  Go West and Battling Butler, while not the absolute best that Buster had to offer circa 1925 - 1926, are two second-tier release that shouldn’t be missed by fans of the silent genre.

The 68-minute Go West (1925) is best known for the comradery that is established between a friendless Buster and a cow by the name of Brown Eyes.  The premise – about a hapless nobody who decides to head out west and seek his fortune even though he hasn’t a clue about what to do – is simple enough to provide an abundance of laughs.  Dumped from a train in the middle of nowhere, Buster decides to pass himself off as an experienced cowhand and even walks the straddling walk…barely.

The ranch hand duties begin with a gag that sees Buster placing a tin can on the ground and “waiting” for the cow - as if it were a child on a toilet – to milk itself and ending with a climax that features the largest stampede every driven through the streets of San Francisco, Go West is serious fun.  The vignettes are great and the cast – featuring a smokin’ Kathleen Myers as the Ranch owner’s daughter – is strong.

In the 75-minute Battling Butler (1926), Buster plays the pampered Alfred Butler who, based upon his father’s desires to make sure his son isn’t too spoiled, is tested by an exhaustive hunting and fishing trip; the type of trip that would make Hemingway proud.  Of course, Buster turns up gag over gag with tents, tables and the boxing ring.  Everything becomes a set piece in his mind and the gag-cup runneth over.  While it would be overshadowed by the genius that is Keaton’s The General (also available on blu-ray) in only a few months after its release, Battling Butler can hold its own with its series of impromptu gags and sight jokes.

With only three films left in Buster’s independent career – College, The Navigator, and Seven Chances – Kino International is about done with this HD remastering series.  There’s no argument that the two films featured on this collection are Buster’s lesser known and lesser seen films, but to dismiss them as errors in a comedic genius’ career is, in itself, a grievous error.  They aren’t classics, but they are important.  Both films are key entries into the construction of his career before ditching his creative freedom and ruining his future by joining Metro Goldwyn Mayer.

Smirking with uncharacteristic sentimentality in Go West and bloodied by violence in Battling Butler, Keaton shows his range with two strong films that should rank higher than they do in his career.  Kino’s remastering is the first step toward this appreciation.  You picking up your own copy would be the next.  What are you waiting for?

{2jtab: Film Details}

Battling Butler / Go West - blu-ray reviewGO West

MPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA.
Director
: Buster Keaton
Writer
: Buster Keaton
Cast:
Howard Truesdale; Kathleen Myers; Ray Thompson; Brown Eyes; Buster Keaton
Genre
: Comedy | Western | Silent
Tagline:
Go West
Memorable Movie Quote: "I'll give you a dollar sixty five for the whole business."
Theatrical Distributor:
Metro-Goldwyn Distributing Corporation
Home Video Distributor: Kino Video
Theatrical Release Date:
November 1, 1925
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
September 27, 2011

Synopsis: In GO WEST, Keaton plays an idealistic young man known as "Friendless," who rides the rails to a dude ranch, forms a sentimental attachment with an especially lovable cow, and, in the film's breathtaking climax, finds himself at the center of cattle stampede through the streets of Los Angeles.

Battling Butler / Go West - blu-ray review

Battling Butler

MPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA.
Director
: Buster Keaton
Writer
: Paul Girard Smith
Cast: Sally O'Neil; Walter James; Budd Fine; Francis McDonald; Mary O'Brien
Genre: Comedy
Tagline:
Battling Butler
Theatrical Distributor:
Metro-Goldwyn Distributing Corporation
Home Video Distributor: Kino International
Theatrical Release Date:
September 19, 1926
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
September 27, 2011

Synopsis: Based on a popular stage musical, BATTLING BUTLER stars Keaton as a pampered socialite who pretends to be a famed prizefighter in order to impress his girlfriend's bullying brothers. Once begun, however, the charade is not easy to end, and Butler - aided by his personal butler (Snitz Edwards) - must endure physical training, sparring, and, unless he can stop it, a title bout with the "Alabama Murderer."

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Battling Butler / Go West - blu-ray review

Component Grades
Movie
 
Blu-ray Disc
4 stars
 
4 stars
     
Blu-ray Experience
4 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - September 27, 2011
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
English: LPCM 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Playback: Region A

Courtesy of AVC encoded 1080p transfer, both films are an archivist’s wet dream.  More effort has been put into finding the best possible sources for the blu-ray conversion.  It shows.  There is a smooth appearance to a lot of the frames.  The contrast is also deep with the actual depth of the film looking stronger and beefier than previously seen.  Go West is presented in standard black and white colors while Battling Butler is presented in a glossy sepia tone.  Both were remastered from original nitrate prints courtesy of the Library of Congress.  There’s a single sound track for each film; one provided by Eric Beheim and the other by Robert Israel.  While not dynamic by any stretch of the imagination, the uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 has enough range to be satisfactory for a silent film.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

The highlight of the supplemental material is an hour-long recording of Keaton hashing out a treatment for ‘Wagon Train’.  This was recorded in 1958 and is included for its obvious association with Go West.  There are a bunch of stills and era photographs included with the release.  Also included is a Hal Roach short which has monkeys rehashing the events of Go West.  Not the greatest of material, but interesting nonetheless.

  • "Go West" (12 min)
  • Buster Keaton: Screenwriter (60 min)
  • Battling Butler Remake Script Excerpts
  • 11 Stage Production Photos
  • Stills

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