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Movie Critique - Sherlock Jr.

For all movies of Sherlock Holmes or related to Sherlock, go here.

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: Keaton's creativity and innovation paves way to a world of possibilities for future filmmakers, while taking the viewers into a magical and fantasy land of the character's mind and two mysteries solved at one shot. Fantastic filmmaking from one of the best.

Sherlock Jr. is a 1924 silent comedy film starring Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Jon Keaton and Ward Crane in the lead cast. The film was directed & produced by Buster Keaton himself along-side Joseph M. Schneck. Story was written by Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez, and Joseph A. Mitchell.

A movie theater Projectionist (portrayed by Buster Keaton) who aspires to become Sherlock Jr., the world's greatest detective, is in love with a beautiful Girl (portrayed by Kathryn McGuire). However he ends up being accused by the Girl's Father (portrayed by Jon Keaton) of stealing his pocket watch, and is banned from their house. Now in order to win the Girl and her Father's blessings, he has to literally become a detective solving his own crime.

Keaton is at his best even if the movie was moderately successful. Reminded me a lot of Charlie Chaplin flicks, considering both are contemporaries. Yet there is so much of technical complications, advancement and innovation in the film that is simply amazing. Makes you wonder, "how the heck did he even do that".

The film comes with some of Keaton's tricks and stunts that always are seen in his movies, all performed by Keaton himself. In this however, he performs the famous trick shot where he jumps into a suitcase and disappears. Several special optics and in-camera tricks were also used by Keaton.

You can see Ford West, as Gillette, reach behind his back to close the opening in the dress as he steps away from the fence after the scene, clearly alluding to the fact that there was a lot of trick shooting and some serious gimmicks used by Keaton.

This film has one of the famous accidents that Keaton always gets into on-set while doing his own stunts. During that accident he had blacked-out for a while and suffered blinding headaches for weeks after. However not until 9 years later his doctor found a callus over a fracture in Keaton's top vertebra. It was a miracle that he continued acting for 9 years with a broken neck and not realizing it. In the film though Keaton walks away as if nothing happened. 

Another special feature of this film is to have a "film within a film", a dream sequence taking up most of the film - a very early example of such a type of film making. Also an example of an actor crossing the plane of reality into a fantasy world, influencing Woody Allen's 1985 film The Purple Rain of Cairo. Originally titled as The Misfit, the film was retitled as Sherlock Jr. and released which is when it became a moderate success.

With a total of 45 minutes of runtime, this was the third Keaton full-length film. Even though it is a short film, it is packed to the last second. This was perhaps the last few films that were distributed under Metro Pictures Corporation before it fully became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 

Keaton's creativity and innovation paves way to a world of possibilities for future filmmakers, while taking the viewers into a magical and fantasy land of the character's mind and two mysteries solved at one shot. Fantastic filmmaking from one of the best.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Some of Keaton's stunts were so famous that at least 40 to 50 years later filmmakers still copied them into their film. For instance the scene in 1987 James Bond movie The Living Daylights in which Bond jams on the car brakes, with the car to stop but body to move, is inspired from this film.

b. Keaton's character is seen reading a book titled "How-To-Be-A-Detective" in the film with seven rules of detection.

c. Several movie posters from the films around that time are seen outside the theater where the Projectionist works - 1923 Scaramouche; 1922 Mud and Sand; 1923 The Fog; 1923 Strangers of the Night; 1923 Roughed Lips; 1923 A Wife's Romance. Also an autographed poster signed "Cordially, Mary Pickford" is seen.

d. The film "Hearts and Pearls" that the theater plays in the movie is produced by Veronal Film Co. according to the title company. The word Veronal alludes to the barbiturate of the same name that was used at that time; and also to let viewers know that they would be wandering into a sleep world soon.

e. Jon Keaton portraying the role of the Girl's Father is Buster Keaton's father in real-life.

f. Sherlock Jr.'s assistant in the dream sequence is named Gillette (portrayed by Ford West). The character is named after William Gillette, the first person to play Sherlock Holmes on stage.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. The balls and the way they are set on the pool table change continuously between shots.

b. Sherlock Jr. spins the fence and places a crossbar to keep the pursuers in. However, in the very next scene, the crossbar is missing.


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