This is a great short to introduce someone to the magic of the silent movies.
Neighbors is the perfect silent film comedy short. A short film has to pack a lot of things into a little amount of time and this movie delivers. It has a rapid fire pace and some great physical comedy.
Keaton and his girlfriend live in neighboring inner city houses. Their yard is separated by a tall wooden fence, in which the sweet hearts send love letters through to each other. Their parents do not like each other and have forbidden them from seeing each other. When the parents intercept a note they sent, a fight breaks out and Keaton ends up with his head buried in the dirt. When he finally gets out he accidentally hits a policeman thinking it is his neighbor's father. The policeman gives chase but loses Keaton once Keaton washes his face. The police then pursues a black man thinking that was Keaton. Did they ever realizes how racist these jokes were? In another scene a black woman goes all bug eyed when she thinks Keaton is a ghost.
Buster Keaton climbs on the fence. He uses the clothes line to slide across the property line to see his beloved. At one point he has a man in the first floor doorway, while another man is in the second floor window and he is on the third floor window. They each step out and step onto each others shoulders. They then walk across the yards to his girlfriends house, with each one going into the corresponding windows and door of her house.
The funniest scene, to me, is when they are finally get married and Keaton's suspenders break. He spends the entire wedding trying to keep his pants up. He even steals the minister's belt, only to discover that he can't use his belt and now both of them can't keep their pants on.
Neighbors is the movie I would suggest to anyone to watch to introduce them to Buster Keaton and silent film comedy shorts.
Don't try this stunt at home.
I agree wholeheartedly. This is a great silent comedy short. It showcases the best of Keaton’s talents, which were his incredible athleticism and acrobatic skills. He does some amazing stunts with the clothesline and climbing up the building. The scene where he stands on the shoulders of a man on the shoulders of another man is one of the most inventive and impressive gags from any silent comedy I’ve seen. I wonder how much rehearsal time and how many takes it took to get it on film.
The racist jokes are unfortunate but they were a staple of the time era. There is a kernel of truth to it however. The scene where the cop, believing Keaton to be black before Keaton cleans the dirt off his face, then simply nabs the first black man he comes across has happened in real life many times. And I’m not sure why white audiences thought it was so funny to see a terrified, wide-eyed black person reacting to what they think is a ghost but it was a common gag during the early days of movie comedy.
In spite of these glaring racist jokes Neighbors is a masterpiece. The set of the backyard alley between the two buildings is brilliantly used by Keaton. He was just so damn inventive with his physical comedy. And as Eric pointed out he manages to pack a hell of a lot of story in two reels. He sets up the love story between Keaton and the neighbor girl, introduces the conflict between the neighboring families, has a few close calls with the cops, the neighbors fight, go to court and then have a wedding all in less than 20 minutes. Bravo!
Buster Keaton in Neighbors.
I agree with both of you. Despite the unfortunate racism, this is a comic little gem from silent film master Buster Keaton. His unmatched humorous athleticism is on grand display, but there's also just enough characterization and similarities to Romeo and Juliet so that you care what happens rather than just laugh at the antics, as funny as those antics are.
The three men on each other's shoulders is the ultimate stunt in the short, but almost as impressive is the dismount from the stunt. The human ladder runs along until the middle man hits a rope and Keaton falls from the shoulders of the third man, down on to the second man and all without missing a beat. Seconds later, the bottom man is blocked and Keaton falls from his shoulders to the ground, again without stopping.
As a Yankee fan, I also enjoyed a brief mention of Babe Ruth when Keaton peers through the fence into a baseball diamond and says, "Babe Ruth is at bat". 1920, the year this short was filmed, was Ruth's first year with the Yankees and the year he hit 54 home runs.
Although a silent film, several jokes on the title cards are also funny. When Keaton's father is trying to get Keaton's head unstuck from a hole in the ground the neighbor tells him, "I know a better way than that to break his neck." To which Keaton's father replies, "He's my son and I'll break his neck any way I please." Later in the courtroom, Keaton tells the judge about the woman he intends to marry, "Her father's abused her long enough; Now I want to marry her and take her home to my father."
I don't know that this short is perfect or a masterpiece, but it certainly is quite funny and a great example of Keaton's work and some inspired comedy.
Photos © Copyright Metro Pictures Corporation (1920)