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Author Topic: What! No Beer? (1933) - Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante  (Read 193 times)

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Offline metaldams

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What! No Beer? (1933) - Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante
« on: February 05, 2018, 07:10:29 PM »
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  •       This is the film where Buster Keaton is officially teamed with Jimmy Durante, as both names share top billing.  So essentially this is a comedy team film, at least in billing.  This would also be not only Buster's final MGM starring film, but the last time Buster Keaton will ever star in a feature film for a major U.S. studio.  From here on out, it was foreign films, comedy shorts, character parts in major and minor films, MGM gag man, television, and commercials, both the TV and lengthy industrial type.  So Keaton kept busy his final 33 years, but his star days were over.

          So what happened?  Keaton's films at MGM continued to be very profitable, including this final film we are discussing, but Keaton himself became unreliable, so Louis B. Mayer terminated his contract.  Keaton himself hated working for MGM and could not make the style of film he did when he had creative control in the silent era, WHAT! NO BEER? being one of them.  Add this to a failing marriage and alcoholism, and you have a picture of Keaton's low point.  On the set of WHAT! NO BEER?, there are stories that Keaton would not show up on the set for an entire week.  Perhaps one can understand Louis B. Mayer's actions.

          The alcoholism issue needs to be brought up because, well, Keaton appears on screen drunk.  Keaton's face looks drawn out, he slurs a few lines....yeah, it's bad.  However, I can deal with it for three reasons.  One is I know Keaton will overcome this, live several more decades, and live out his remaining years in what's reported to be a good marriage and contentment.  Secondly, I have become desensitized by watching Curly's final twelve Stooge shorts.  Keaton may be at his low point here, but man, not anywhere near as bad as Curly was.  Thirdly, Keaton is teamed with a loud comic like Jimmy Durante, who quite frankly chews all his ham and steals a few slices from Keaton in the process.  Durante being himself greatly distracts from Keaton's state.

          There is one scene where Keaton and Durante, along with Roscoe Ates and Henry Armetta, get an old brewing factory and learn to work the equipment and make beer.  This scene goes on for several minutes with lots of beer suds flowing and tons of noise being made by all the comedians....except Keaton.  All the other comedians are hooting and hollering, create all this comic energy, and you barely know Keaton is there.  This scene to me, more than any other, sums up Keaton's position at MGM.  Too many cooks in the kitchen, and Keaton was the cook with the least say.

          So yes, as a Keaton film, this is a dud.  Keaton fans who can't stand Jimmy Durante and are not into loud pre code comedy should completely hate this film.  I enjoy this film, though, because of Jimmy Durante, the loud pre code comedy nature, the gangster motif, and the presence of THREE LITTLE SEW AND SEW'S own Phyllis Barry (I've also seen her in Wheeler and Woolsey's HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY!).  She's fascinating with a unique accent and beauty to her, and yeah, we get the obligatory pretty girl in lingerie scene with her we'd no longer see the likes of once July 1934 hit.  I also like the fact this film is a cultural artifact for the time prohibition was coming to an end in America.  Love the fact the film points out how the gangsters do not want prohibition to end because it destroys their business.  Oh, and we get a really cool array of beer barrels rolling down the street with Keaton running away and havoc taking place.  This also happened a couple of years later in a film called THREE LITTLE BEERS.

          So my rating reflects my thoughts of the overall film, not as a Keaton film...though admittedly a great Keaton role would have upped the score more.

          The MGM era is now completely reviewed and similar to my Marx Brothers reviewing experience, I find I like the MGM's more than I thought.  FREE AND EASY is utter shit and PASSIONATE PLUMBER is barely passable, but the others have their charms.  I think with me, I've seen these films a few times now and know what to expect going in, liking them for what they are and mourning less what they're not.  Add to the fact I've seen the silent Keaton classics a million times and the MGM films take on a new freshness.  I welcome them as a whole in my collection, but to beginners, I still say, start with the silent classics. 

    7/10

    Offline Umbrella Sam

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    Re: What! No Beer? (1933) - Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante
    « Reply #1 on: February 07, 2018, 06:52:25 PM »
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  • Well, Keaton’s MGM output has had its up and down moments and WHAT! NO BEER? ends it in the middle. It isn’t good; it isn’t terrible; it’s just very middle-of-the-road.

    That’s not to say there aren’t good or bad moments. The film had a couple of creative and decently funny moments like the scene with the voting booth mix-up. Also, I really loved the moment where they’re first putting beer in bottles and Keaton breaks the first two with a mallet. I don’t know why that made me laugh so much; maybe it was his dumbfounded reaction to it.

    Keaton is at his absolute worst here in terms of his looks and his delivery, though you still do have to give him credit for pulling off many of the falls and physical stuff with as much energy as he could. The beer barrel scene with him is nice, but when you really think about it, it’s basically the boulder finale from SEVEN CHANCES, but without the boulders and the wide open spaces. At least we got something that was somewhat reminiscent of classic Keaton in this film.

    Honestly, I’ve got nothing against Jimmy Durante, but he really was better off as a comic relief than as a lead. He occasionally gets a good line, but he’s just on screen for way too long and while I don’t want to necessarily say his constant shouting was annoying, it did get pretty dull after the umpteenth time. Keaton and Durante work off each other a lot more here than in SPEAK EASILY, but that only goes to prove even more how flawed the partnership was. Durante is constantly talking over Keaton and when Keaton gets a chance to speak, Durante interrupts him. Durante was very expressive and as a result I think his moments of guilt are fairly convincing, so I can give him that he works well off of Keaton from a friendship standpoint even if he doesn’t necessarily work well off of him from a comedic standpoint, if you understand what I mean.

    The supporting cast is not nearly as good as in SPEAK EASILY. Most of the gang members, with the exception of Edward Brophy, just feel like they’re going through the motions and Phyllis Barry’s love for Keaton’s character is not that convincing, though in her defense the movie is pretty short and doesn’t allow for much development. I’ll also admit that Keaton and Durante’s bumbling employees occasionally got a laugh out of me.

    Overall, WHAT! NO BEER? is not actively worth seeking out, but at the same time, it’s pretty harmless. The story is coherent for the most part and there’s not really anything offensive about it, but overall it tends to be pretty boring. Not the worst, but you can still do a lot better.

    5 out of 10

    So that ends the MGM era for Keaton and I have to admit that it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. SPITE MARRIAGE and PARLOR, BEDROOM, AND BATH were both bad, and FREE AND EASY could probably be used as an effective torture device, but otherwise the rest of them were OK. There certainly are unique elements to them. As metaldams mentioned, though, if you want to really get into Keaton, then you’re going to want to check out the silents. I still do have to wonder what would have happened had MGM continued to give Keaton his independence. It would have been interesting to see a sound feature under his personal supervision.

    Offline metaldams

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    Re: What! No Beer? (1933) - Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante
    « Reply #2 on: February 08, 2018, 06:02:38 PM »
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  • A sound feature with Keaton's independence should have been great.  The thing is, watching the Educational shorts, Keaton had more control there, but not the budgets of MGM or when he was independent.  Hindsight being 20/20, Keaton should have went to Hal Roach.  True, he would have been making shorts again, which is probably why it was never considered, but artistically, I think he would have had the best chance of doing something great.  Maybe Paramount for features. Between W.C. Fields, The Marx Brothers, and Mae West, that studio understood comedy better than the others.  A Keaton comedy at Paramount, we'll never know.

    But yeah, MGM, while Keaton had his moments and one classic silent feature, wasn't ideal for him.

    Offline Umbrella Sam

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    Re: What! No Beer? (1933) - Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante
    « Reply #3 on: February 08, 2018, 09:57:09 PM »
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  • A sound feature with Keaton's independence should have been great.  The thing is, watching the Educational shorts, Keaton had more control there, but not the budgets of MGM or when he was independent.  Hindsight being 20/20, Keaton should have went to Hal Roach.  True, he would have been making shorts again, which is probably why it was never considered, but artistically, I think he would have had the best chance of doing something great.  Maybe Paramount for features. Between W.C. Fields, The Marx Brothers, and Mae West, that studio understood comedy better than the others.  A Keaton comedy at Paramount, we'll never know.

    But yeah, MGM, while Keaton had his moments and one classic silent feature, wasn't ideal for him.

    Yeah, Paramount was probably Keaton’s best chance as far as sound features. As for Roach, I could totally see Keaton doubling as both a star of his own series and as a gag writer for the Laurel and Hardy series. He actually wrote some gags for their 1944 MGM feature, NOTHING BUT TROUBLE, but they were discarded.

    I doubt MGM was Keaton’s first choice, but his reputation for going overbudget with THE GENERAL probably limited the opportunities he had.