Movie Review

Hard Luck

Hard Luck Movie Poster

US Release Date: 03-14-1921

Directed by: Buster Keaton


  • Buster Keaton
  • Suicidal Boy
  • Virginia Fox
  • Virginia
  • Joe Roberts
  • Lizard Lip Luke
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: November 17th, 2010
Buster Keaton in Hard Luck

Buster Keaton in Hard Luck

Hard Luck starts with a title card stating Buster has just lost his job and girlfriend.  He decides the only thing to do is kill himself.  He tries to let a streetcar run him over.  He tries to hang himself.  He even tries the classic move of letting a safe fall on him, that is being raised in front of a building.  None work.

He even tries to kill himself by drinking some poison.  It turns out that the "poison" bottle is actually where a waiter hides his alcohol.   Feeling no pain, he wanders into a meeting of the board of directors of a zoo.    They hire him to go find them an armadillo. 

In the country side, he comes across a country club and meets a girl, Virginia.  He joins her on a fox hunt.  He gets separated from the main hunting party, as they stop off for some drinks.  They get attacked by some baddies.  The men rob everyone, while Joe Roberts tries to rape Virginia.  Buster shows up and saves the day.

One of my favorite scenes is when he goes fishing and catches a bigger and bigger fish.  The best stunt comes at the end when he jumps off a high dive.  My jaw dropped when he jumped.

The version I saw was not in good condition.  Almost every time a scene changed, the quality of the film changed as well.   Hard Luck is mostly a series of sketches, loosely attached to each other.  Some are funnier than others, but Keaton is always worth watching.

Reviewed on: October 11th, 2011
A surviving still of the missing final scene in Hard Luck.

A surviving still of the missing final scene in Hard Luck.

Hard Luck is a prime example of just how much story can be packed into two reels of film. Yes it’s all loosely strung together but Keaton throws in plenty of disparate plot points. As Eric mentioned it starts with a suicidal Keaton attempting a variety of ways to off himself, all of which end unsuccessfully.

Next he heads into the wild in search of an armadillo (which quickly gets forgotten about). Keaton makes good use of a horse as a living prop and once again has a scene with a bear. Once the dastardly Lizard Lip Luke and his onerous gang show up it plays briefly like a Western.

This movie was believed lost for more than sixty years. When a copy was finally discovered it was incomplete. Eric that’s why the quality of the film is so uneven and the editing seems screwy. About three minutes of the movie have never been recovered.

The final scene, which Keaton later claimed garnered the longest laugh of his entire movie career, is missing. It happens after Keaton’s high dive. (On a side note, Keaton displays his incredibly fit physique in a swimming suit in this scene.) He misses the pool and disappears down the large crater he created on impact.

The last existing shot shows several people staring down into the hole. The title card then reads: Several years later. Cut to Keaton emerging from the hole in Oriental dress with a Chinese wife and kids in tow (see photo above). Unfortunately all that exists of this scene today is a still photograph.

Regardless of its incomplete status, Hard Luck is yet another showcase for the amazing physical comedy of Buster Keaton.

Reviewed on: December 28th, 2011
Buster Keaton in Hard Luck.

Buster Keaton in Hard Luck.

While the ending to this entertaining short was long believed lost, it was eventually found in a Russian collection and it can now be seen in its entirety on YouTube. It's an amusing enough ending, but claims that it gained the longest laugh of Keaton's career seem exaggerated and you have to suppose that its lost status built up the joke in people's mind.

I had the same thought as you Eric that this is really a series of sketches that flow into one another (and not always logically) rather than a really cohesive story. Take the ending as an example. After the girl is held at gunpoint and nearly raped, she naturally decides its time to go for a swim? Or the fishing scene, which is amusing enough, but has nothing to do with anything else in the "story".

If that sounds like a complaint, it's really not. If the jokes were less funny than the lack of plot might work against it, but Keaton throws so many jokes at you that you don't miss a story at all. Every scene features a gag of some kind or another. If one doesn't work quite so well, don't worry because in about 3 seconds another will come along that will.

One of the jokes that made me laugh loudest wasn't a sight gag at all, but rather a title card. After Keaton rescues the girl, he drops to one knee and says, "Who could ever stand in the way of our marriage now?" To which the girl replies, "Well, no one....except my husband over there."

There's not much in the way of story, but who cares. This is Keaton at the height of his comic talent.