US Release Date: 12-22-1920
Directed by: Buster Keaton
- Buster Keaton, as
- Edward F. Cline, as
- Hit-and-Run Truck Driver
- Luke the Dog, as
- The Dog
- Joe Keaton, as
- Joe Roberts, as
- Sybil Seely, as
- Farmer's Daughter
- Al St. John as
- Man with Motorbike
Buster Keaton and Joe Roberts in The Scarecrow.
Although The Scarecrow was made a year after Arbuckle moved to features leaving Keaton to his own shorts, it feels very much like a rehash of the Arbuckle/Keaton film The Cook (1918). Keaton and Roberts are farmhands who share a shack they have rigged with all kinds of clever devices to make their daily routine easier. They work together in well rehearsed unison much like Arbuckle and Keaton in The Cook.
Both farmhands are in love with the farmer's daughter. At one point Keaton bends to tie his shoe, but the girl mistakes it for a proposal. This causes much anguish for Roberts and the movie quickly becomes an extended chase scene, with Keaton being chased by Roberts, the farmer and a dog, much as he was in The Cook. At one point Keaton hides as a scarecrow, thus the title of the film.
Although silent comedies were successful because of the slapstick, they often contained funny lines. My favorite here is when Keaton says of the farmer's daughter, "I don't care how she votes, I'm going to marry her!"
Although Roberts is clearly in the Arbuckle role, a couple of the co-stars from The Cook appear in The Scarecrow. Arbuckle's nephew Al St John has a small role, and Arbuckle's dog Luke, reprises his role of chasing Keaton. In their best scene together Luke chases Keaton around the top of four walls of a roofless building.
Although it has a been there, seen that feel to it, The Scarecrow is so fast paced and interesting to watch that you will not be bored. It does demonstrate what Arbuckle brought to the screen. Roberts is over weight, but not nearly as comedically charming as Fatty.
Buster Keaton is The Scarecrow.
I think The Scarecrow features some of Keaton’s best work. He was clearly functioning at the height of his creativity. There are many innovative sight gags to enjoy. The opening scene where the house itself is a cleverly constructed automated prop complete with pulleys, for example. I chuckled when Buster pushed the picket fence apart to create a gate. I also enjoyed the farmer’s daughter’s nearly continuous dancing.
I concur that Joe Roberts was no Fatty Arbuckle and clearly he is acting as stand-in for that comic legend.
There are several topical jokes in the title cards worth mentioning. Eric you mentioned one of them, which is clearly a reference to the fact that in 1920 women had just won the right to vote in the United States. There are also several nods to Prohibition which had gone into effect that year as well. When Buster is cooking breakfast, Roberts tells him, “Hurry up! My stomach is as empty as a saloon.” And later it is shown that the farmer keeps a bottle of alcohol hidden in his scarecrow’s back pocket.
The chase on the roofless ruins of a house is visually interesting, especially in the long shots where we see the nearby road and surrounding countryside. Keaton winds up in a pile of hay wearing only a wife-beater and boxer-shorts. You can see just how lean and physically fit he was. Watch how easily he walks on his hands across the stream. The ending is quite funny. I’ve never seen a marriage ceremony like this one.
The Scarecrow may not be Buster Keaton’s most original short but it is highly entertaining nonetheless.
Buster Keaton in The Scarecrow.
I could easily see Arbuckle playing the other Farmhand and Al St. John as the Farmer. The big difference between this short and those earlier joint shorts is that here Keaton is clearly the star and he's the one who ends up with the girl.
The first half of The Scarecrow is visually clever, but not all that funny. I can admire the timing as Keaton and Roberts work with the gimmicky house, but it's more interesting than funny. Although, like you Patrick, I laughed at the surprise of the parting picket fence.
Keaton's physical antics in the second half chase are more amusing. The race around the rim of the abandoned house is the most impressive stunt and the closest this short comes to a genuine "Keaton" moment.
As long as we're pointing out funny title cards, I got a chuckle out of, "She belonged to the Dancer's Union and couldn't stop until the whistle blew." when the scene cuts back to the farmer's daughter and she's still dancing.
While there are some funny moments and some clever tricks, this fast paced short isn't all that special. Keaton made better.
Photos © Copyright Metro Pictures Corporation (1920)