Quick note about the leading lady Natalie Talmadge that deserves mentioning is that she was Buster's real life wife at the time and pregnant with their child. She was the least famous of the Talmadge sisters, the others being Constance and Norma. Forgotten today except by hardcore silent film fanatics, they were the Khardashians of their day, just with more talent and without synthetic backsides.
OUR HOSPITALITY is indeed the first feature film masterpiece Buster made of many. Unlike the shorts and THREE AGES, Buster was able to to combine dramatic storytelling and drama together with the feeling comedy was king yet the story was real. Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd have already set this precedent with THE KID (1921) and GRANDMA'S BOY (1922) respectively. Keaton followed suite. As far as drama goes, the first seven or eight minutes is complete drama, setting up the story perfectly of the feuding Canfields and McKays, and obvious play on Hatfields and McCoys.
The first comic bits are Buster riding a big bike without pedals, essentially maneuvering the bike with his legs, a wonderful sight gag words don't do justice. It eventually leads into the first big set piece....that wonderful train that looks like a giant toy that's going to fall apart any minute. No doubt preceding THE GENERAL as far as trains go, the difference here, other than the already mentioned toy effect versus the realism of THE GENERAL, is the train sequence is played 100% for laughs here at a slow pace, where it's laughs and drama with a real train and fast pace in THE GENERAL....and man are there laughs. Love the homeless guy throw rocks at the train in order to get Fire wood thrown back at him for him to use, very clever! The hat gag where Buster bumps his head on the train is fantastic, one because that giant hat is visually funny, two the tallness of the hat causing discomfort in a low ceiling bumpy car is clever, and three it gives Buster an excuse to break out the trademark pork pie hat, much smaller and convenient. The compartments of the train becoming disjointed in creative ways, the dog gag, Monte Collins, Sr. falling off the back of the train....just tons of funny stuff with a wonderfully scenic back drop, live the train stuff.
Buster in the home of the Canfields is also wonderfully milked for all its comic potential. Basically, the Canfields feel the need to be hospitable when Buster's in their home as a guest of their daughter/sister (hence the title), but the men will kill Buster the second he steps out to keep the family feud going. So the gags revolve around Buster staying in the home in as many ways possible and trying to escape. Love the bit where he delays leaving by doing tricks with that dog. Such wonderful chemistry working with that animal. Also dig it when they're saying grace and Buster has one eye open, each Canfield man staring at Buster with one eye open as well. Wonderfully acted by all involved and wonderfully edited.
The chase at the end has some incredible moments, including the rope gag on the cliff with one of the Canfield brothers that involves said brother and Buster taking a huge fall into the river below. Buster again milks being tied to the other brother on a long rope for all it's worth, finding several ways to avoid being shot and escaping the brother. The stuff where Buster is in the flowing river and waterfall is incredibly dangerous and amazing to watch. Buster taking bumps and hanging on for dear life. Buster was really in water and nothing was faked like this kind of thing would have been in most other films with close ups and rear projection (or today, CGI). Real risk and skill involved. Classic gag where Buster swings down the waterfall and grabs Natalie as she's falling down the waterfall mid air. So what if it was a dummy he grabbed still and amazingly timed feat. Jackie Chan calls Buster and influence and it's stuff like this that makes me see why.
Yes, we say goodbye to Big Joe Roberts, who passed away only months after this filming after suffering a series of strokes, the first after production started. Sad, as he was too young and a great heavy for Keaton who would have made Buster's films even better.
An absolute classic film that would be the best for just about anybody, but Buster somehow found ways to top this one.