0564 | Hard Luck

Here’s another film co-written and co-directed by Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline. In Hard Luck Keaton plays a suicidal man who repeatedly tries to top himself during the first five minutes, only to fail on each occasion: he lies down in front of an oncoming tram only for it to stop short and go back the other way; he uses a rope that’s too long when trying to hang himself from a tree; and an attempt to run out in front of a car at night goes awry when it’s revealed that the two lights coming towards him are actually motorbikes, which subsequently pass by on either side. After he drinks some whisky by accident (it’s in a jar marked ‘POISON’) he becomes emboldened, at first joining an expedition to capture an armadillo before later fishing, participating in a fox hunt, encountering a bear and thwarting a gang of outlaws. The steady build up of confidence he receives from each of these events leads to a final reel set piece where – trying to impress a woman named Virginia (Virginia Fox) – Keaton dives from a high board that’s overlooking a pool. Unfortunately the character misses the water below completely and ploughs headfirst into the poolside concrete, apparently with such force he tunnels all the way to China. It’s said to be the silent comedy star’s favourite gag, and he referred to it as his greatest laugh-getting scene, though it came close to being destroyed and was only recently rediscovered by archivists. The other jokes here are better than average; the inept behaviour of the opening few minutes is carried through to later scenes, and there’s some amusing clowning around with a pliant horse, who probably deserved a credit for the performance. It’s a weird one, with a plot that is all over the place, but pretty funny nonetheless.

Directed by: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline.
Written by: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline.
Starring: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts.
Cinematography: Elgin Lessley.
Editing: Buster Keaton.
Certificate: N/A.
Running Time: 22 minutes.
Year: 1921.

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