US Release Date: 11-10-1921
Directed by: Buster Keaton
- Buster Keaton, as
- The Boat Builder
- Sybil Seely as
- His Wife
Buster Keaton and Sybil Seely in The Boat.
Buster Keaton was great at what he did. He understood the medium he worked in so well. It is why his work is still at all relevant today. The Boat is a short film that has very little dialogue screens. It doesn't need to. Like all of his work, it is in what he does that is so important and not what he says. Although, The Boat does end on one of the funniest pieces of unspoken dialogue I have ever not heard.
Keaton plays a married father of two young boys. He proudly builds a boat in his basement for his family to vacation on. He names it Damfino. Of course it is too big to get out of the door but Keaton gets it out none-the-less. After rescuing his sons a couple of times he eventually gets the boat to float in the water. Some low bridges cause some problems but they eventually get out to sea and start to relax. That is until a storm comes up and sinks his boat.
The family ends up in a row boat that was actually their bathtub. Of course one of the boys pulls the plug out of the drain. They end up on some land and Keaton mouths the earliest expletive I know of by a major movie star in a film.
As a father of two boys, who also builds things in the basement, I connected to this little film very well. Keaton runs ragged trying to keep his family and bought afloat. Yes, yes, yes, you could definitely say this movie is allegorical to the stresses of being a married father trying to support his family. I am not sure if Keaton was going for that but it's there if you want to see it.
Buster proudly launches his boat.
Keaton was the destructive comic. Within the first few minutes of this short he has caused his house to collapse (I wonder how many houses Keaton destroyed in his career?) and driven his car into the ocean. Upon launching, his boat immediately sinks.
His character works because he never loses his famous deadpan expression. Even in the middle of a crisis (usually of his own making) Keaton never seems worried or upset. He takes everything life throws his way with a grain of salt. Only Keaton would go topside on a boat at night in the middle of a raging tempest using only a lit candle for illumination.
I liked the use of the bathtub as a lifeboat and I agree that the ending is quite funny. The Boat still has the ability to induce laughs nearly a century after it was made. Such is the art of Buster Keaton.
Buster Keaton watches his dreams of boat ownership go down the drain in The Boat.
This is probably my favorite Buster Keaton short that I've yet seen. The simple plot device of giving him a family actually humanizes the Great Stone Face. Where normally he comes across as a simple cartoon character, by making him a husband and a father, it made me feel more for him.
There are a plethora of sight gags scattered throughout this short. I laughed at the floating anchor because it took me by surprise. Likewise when he had the genius idea of nailing a picture to the hull of the boat. And like you Patrick I wondered just how many houses and cars Keaton must have destroyed over his career. Insurance agents must have cried themselves to sleep when they heard he was coming.
What really makes Keaton's character so winning here is that he's just so indomitable. No matter what goes wrong with the boat, he just keeps going. He's determined to get that boat in the water and for his family to have a trip out to sea, no matter what it costs. The house gets destroyed, the car goes into the bay and the ship hits a storm, but Keaton will not be stopped. He reminded me a bit (or I guess that should be the other way around) of Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Vacation.
Was this the best Keaton short? Damn if I know, but it's one of my favorites.
Photos © Copyright First National Pictures (1921)