Cornered into Being a Boxer Boxed into a Corner

21 Aug 2013: Battling Butler (DVD, 1926, Buster Keaton)

A deft and very fast-paced comedy with a number of impressive scenes and sequences, none of which seem to last long enough or get developed fully enough to become uproarious, though there are plenty of laughs to have: wild country Model T drivers, inattentively falling into a river while jogging with a boxing trainer, ineptitude with firearms, Butler’s idea of “roughing it” on a camping trip with an apartment-sized tent and manservant. To Chaplin’s childlike awkward innocence Keaton milks bogus aristocratic refinement, though each boxes as pathetically as the other and both bumble into deceptions at about the same rate. Apart from sparse boxing and training scenes, physical comedy is not here as heavily weighted as the conceptual; Keaton gets his head tangled in the ropes and has a big problem with watching his trainer more than his sparring partner, but his squirming and his facial expressions and his intertitle dialogues seem more important in this story. Slender characters leave this feeling pretty light but enjoyable.

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