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Author Topic: The High Sign (1921) - Buster Keaton  (Read 412 times)

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Offline Paul Pain

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The High Sign (1921) - Buster Keaton
« on: June 25, 2017, 04:42:10 AM »
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  • http://www.busterkeaton.com/Films/B07_The_High_Sign.html
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3d/The_High_Sign_%281921%29.webm

    Watch THE HIGH SIGN in the link above.

    Well, we have Buster Keaton's solo debut finally in theaters everywhere!  Keaton considered this an inferior effort and shelved, but he was forced to release it while recovering from injuries suffered while filming.  And I can see why he hated it: the supporting cast.  Bartine Burkett Zane is the worst female cast member we'll see in any past or future Keaton films, with acting that makes one wonder if she hated her job or something.  Charles Dorety is, among others, too doused in makeup to seem like a legit villain; he belongs in a seedy 1940s Broadway production.

    The plot is exceptionally well done, however, with gadgets and machines everywhere.  The use of gadgets, in fact, dominates the short.  The chase through the house is Keaton-esque mechanically, and well-done.  Overall, it's not a bad effort.  However, I am convinced Keaton is making the high sign to Tiny Tim and not the audience; just my opinion.

    The scene where the villain gets his neck shut in the door is weird... kind of creepy.  Al St. John makes a nice cameo though.  Overall, a weird short...

    8/10 [poke] [poke] [poke] [poke] [poke] [poke] [poke] [poke]
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    Offline metaldams

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    Re: The High Sign (1921) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #1 on: June 25, 2017, 09:01:09 AM »
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  •       Yes, this is the first filmed Keaton short that was initially shelved and then released when he needed to buy some time after injuring his ankle while filming THE ELECTRIC HOUSE.  Can I see why this was shelved?  I suppose.  It has the strange distinction of at times not feeling like a Keaton film yet at other times feeling totally like a Keaton film, and I can understand wanting to get his first effort just right.  There was a back up plan for his first feature too, but we'll get to that later.

          So what about this film is not Keaton like?  Well, yeah, the supporting cast.  The cast of bad guys especially have the feel of a Mack Sennett film, a bit cartoonish at times.  The gag towards the end where the bandit's head gets caught in the door, and his eyes are blackened with a ham fisted face is very cartoonish and not the kind of thing you'd normally see out of Keaton.  The whole gag where Keaton ties the dog on a string attached to a bell to set up that his shots are hitting his target is essentially a sound gag.  Silent film works best with visual humor.  Also, when Keaton fools the audience, does not slip on the banana peel and does that hand signal (a.k.a. The High Sign), to the audience, Keaton breaks the fourth wall.  Subsequent films Keaton never acknowledges the audience, and there will be a part in next week's short where this is all too clear. 


          Sound gag aside, these things aren't inherently bad, just un Keaton like.  Some great stuff in this short as well.  The never ending unfolding newspaper is classic, as is Keaton's fall while standing on the bench.  Keaton hanging his hat and jacket on the wall where nothing is there is standard Keaton, and him later painting a hanger on the wall that works is a nice touch.  The obvious highlight of the short, though, is the booby trapped house that shows off both the cerebral (in the thought it takes to get done), mixing with the physical (the obvious skill it takes to pull such stunts off).  Just a brilliant final few minutes and the kind of holy shit moment we come to expect watching prime Keaton.

          For a guy finding himself as an artist, fantastic stuff. 

    8/10

    Offline GreenCanaries

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    Re: The High Sign (1921) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #2 on: June 25, 2017, 12:46:53 PM »
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  • Charles Dorety is, among others, too doused in makeup to seem like a legit villain; he belongs in a seedy 1940s Broadway production.

    Ingram B. Pickett is the villain. Charles Dorety (who would later pop up in many '30s-'40s Stooges shorts) is the top-hatted lush at the shooting range. He was also the car customer in THE GARAGE.
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    Offline Umbrella Sam

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    Re: The High Sign (1921) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #3 on: June 25, 2017, 09:15:23 PM »
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  • I have to agree with the consensus for the most part: it's a good short that has a lot of funny moments, although being Keaton's first short he still needed a little bit more time to develop his style, although there are definitely things about it that are reminiscent of his later shorts, such as the booby trapped house and the newspaper gag (the newspaper gag would actually be reused many years later for THE RAILRODDER, with a twist that actually makes it both more thrilling and funnier). Regarding the banana gag, it doesn't really bother me. Keaton breaking the fourth wall was odd, but it was a quick gag that I did find a bit amusing, due to Keaton once again playing around with expectations.

    The gag with the villain in the door, on the other hand, I find to be very disturbing, and I also have to agree with the fact that the supporting cast in this really bogs the short down, although it was nice to see Al St. John again. Really, I don't have much to add to what's been said, as I almost entirely agree with what has already been pointed out.

    8 out of 10

    Offline Big Chief Apumtagribonitz

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    Re: The High Sign (1921) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #4 on: June 28, 2017, 10:10:08 AM »
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  • I can't see anything in particular that would get this shelved, unless by the time it was ready to be shipped One Week was already shaping up to be a smash and they said Let's open with this one.  This is certainly not a markedly inferior short to any others that we've seen so far.  Plenty of funny gags, a better plot than Hard Luck, certainly, and I don't have a problem with the supporting cast.

    Offline Umbrella Sam

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    Re: The High Sign (1921) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #5 on: June 28, 2017, 06:34:15 PM »
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  • I can't see anything in particular that would get this shelved, unless by the time it was ready to be shipped One Week was already shaping up to be a smash and they said Let's open with this one.  This is certainly not a markedly inferior short to any others that we've seen so far.  Plenty of funny gags, a better plot than Hard Luck, certainly, and I don't have a problem with the supporting cast.

    The reason that THE HIGH SIGN was shelved was because Keaton himself was dissatisfied with the short, as he felt the short needed a little more work on it. One gag that he didn't like was the one where he doesn't slip on the banana peel and acknowledges the audience. Keaton fought Schenk not to release it and eventually Schenk gave in. Keaton then went on to appear in THE SAPHEAD and filmed ONE WEEK afterwards. As metaldams mentioned, the only reason this short saw release at all was because Keaton broke his ankle while filming the first version of THE ELECTRIC HOUSE and he needed something to fill in the gap between films while he was recovering.

    I agree that the story is better than HARD LUCK and do think it's better than Keaton gave it credit for, but I do have to agree with him in that it just needed a little more work. To be fair, though, this was his first short and styles develop more over time, so this isn't really that surprising. For a first effort, this is still pretty good.