OUR HOSPITALITY is one of Buster Keaton's best silent films, a hilarious spoof of the story of the feuding Hatfield and McCoy families, beautifully blending slapstick and death-defying stunts with a parody of Southern melodramas.
The Canfield and McKay families have been feuding for years, and when Jim Canfield challenges John McKay to a duel, they both wind up getting killed. McKay's widow takes her one-year-old son Willie, who's the last of the line, to her sister's in New York. Twenty years later, Willie (Buster Keaton)
is notified that he has inherited the family estate and should return home. He boards a rickety old pioneer train, and befriends another passenger named Virginia (Natalie Talmadge), who's actually a Canfield, although neither of them know who the other is. When the Canfields discover that Willie
is in town, they try to shoot him, but he continually escapes due to their guns jamming and other mishaps. Virginia invites Willie over for dinner, and the Canfield boys again try to shoot him, but their father tells them that their code of honor prevents them from shooting Willie while he's a
guest in their house. Willie discovers that their last name is Canfield and refuses to leave the house after dinner, eventually deciding to become a permanent guest. Virginia's father tells her that Willie is a McKay, but she doesn't care.
Days later, Willie disguises himself as an old lady and escapes the house in a dress, but the Canfields chase him down a cliff and into a river. Virginia follows and tries to save him, but her canoe tips over and she falls into the water. Willie manages to pull himself up onto the rocks, and when
he sees Virginia floating towards the edge of a waterfall, he ties a rope around his waist and a log, swings across the raging river, grabs Mary, and swings back to safety on the rocks. Back at her house, the Canfields see Willie passionately kissing Virginia in her bedroom, but when they go to
shoot him, a reverend appears from behind the door and pronounces them man and wife. The Canfields decide to end the feud and put down their pistols, and Willie does the same, only he pulls out seven guns which were hidden under his clothes.
OUR HOSPITALITY is a marvelous example of Keaton's ability to mine laughs from an essentially serious situation (blood feuds and assassination attempts) while at the same time spoofing the melodramatic pretensions of the genre (Southern customs, codes of honor, etc). Keaton has a lot of fun with
the period setting, such as when a title informs us that the next scene is a shot of 42nd St. and Broadway in 1830 ("from an old print"), and we see an aerial view of two log cabins in the middle of a dirt road in the familiar Times Square diamond; or when he gets on the train and is warned by his
aunt to "Watch out for Indians when you get out west near Trenton." The train itself is a wonderful old contraption, and the entire journey is a tour-de-force of comic invention, with Keaton taking full advantage of its humorous possibilities, as he would later do in THE GENERAL (1927). The train
is actually two stagecoaches attached to a tiny locomotive steam engine (operated by Keaton's father, Joe, who cooks his dinner in the engine), and the train frequently runs off the tracks and onto the dirt and has to contend with rocks, logs, and mules blocking its path. At one point, the train
is so slow, that the dog which has been running behind it eventually passes it, as do the stagecoaches, after becoming uncoupled. Keaton built the train to be an exact duplicate of one of the first passenger trains, called the "Stephenson Rocket," and donated it to the Smithsonian Institute after
When Willie arrives down South and is chased by the Canfields, Keaton gives full rein to his physical agility, ranging from the subtleties of how he continually eludes and frustrates their attempts to shoot him, to the incredible river finale and waterfall climax. Willie's rescue of Virginia
(played by Keaton's real-life wife Natalie Talmadge) on the waterfall is an amazing display of Keaton's athletic prowess, and ranks with the falling building in STEAMBOAT BILL JR.(1928) and the dive into the suitcase in SHERLOCK JR. (1924) as one of his greatest stunts, although, as usual, Keaton
put his life in jeopardy, and was injured doing it. In addition to casting his wife and father, Keaton also used his one-year-old son to play Willie as a baby, and the whole film has a kind of family album, fairy tale quality to it that only gets sweeter and more charming with every passing
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- Rating: NR
- Review: OUR HOSPITALITY is one of Buster Keaton's best silent films, a hilarious spoof of the story of the feuding Hatfield and McCoy families, beautifully blending slapstick and death-defying stunts with a parody of Southern melodramas. The Canfield and McKay fa… (more)