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Flavored with Americana and loaded with cinematic inventiveness, Steamboat Bill Jr. was Buster Keaton's final independent production before joining MGM (where his work suffered a steady decline in quality), a comic masterpiece that represents the full breadth of its maker's remarkable talents Set on the Mississippi River in the old sidewheeler days, Steamboat Bill Jr. follows the adventures of a spoiled young man who is forced by his crusty father (Ernest Torrence) to learn the ropes of riverboating. Over the course of the narrative, the scale of comedy gradually expands, from small-scale, nostalgic humor (as when Bill Sr. outfits his son with a new wardrobe) to some of the most elaborate sight gags of Keaton's career. Junior's attempts to single-handedly pilot the rag-tag "Stonewall Jackson" recall the mechanical brilliance of The General and The Navigator, but the film's crowning achievement is its hurricane climax. Highlighted by remarkable special effects (including the destruction of full-sized sturctures), it includes the legendary stunt in which the front of a building collapses over Junior, who passes unharmed through an open window.

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Extras Two Keaton short films. Surprisingly dark yet wickedly funny, Convict 13 (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1920. B&W. 20 mins. Music: Robert Israel at the Fotoplayer.) combines gallows humor with rapid-fire slapstick as Buster struggles to survive within, and escape from, prison walls. In Kino's carefully-reconstructed print of Daydreams (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1922. B&W. 22 mins. Musical setting by Robert Israel.), Buster tries to establish himself in a profession -- from veterinary assistant to street-sweeper to actor -- and, in one of his most cleverly staged chases, is pursued by a herd of New York City "bulls."

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KI132 Steamboat Bill, Jr. (+ Convict 13/Daydreams) DVD (1928/Buster Keaton) $24.95 $22.45