For the record, for a fresh viewing for this review, I watched the 2013 rediscovered version. This new discovery is the sole reason why I bought the new shorts collection set linked above. Keaton has been re-released several times since I've been a fan on DVD and Blu-Ray, and while some of these re-releases look enticing, it would take a huge discovery like this for me to double dip. So these days, I watch the above collection for shorts, and my trusty ART OF BUSTER KEATON DVD set I bought in the early 2000's for the features.
What a rediscovery this is because yes, the "new" stuff does make THE BLACKSMITH a better film. Part of the problem with the preview print we for years thought was the real deal is that it plays too much like a Three Stooges film. Now, what's that I say? Aren't I the guy who reviewed every one of their main films for almost four years? How can I say that? A Three Stooges film works for The Three Stooges, but not Keaton. The Three Stooges are great at incompetence because usually the incompetent Moe acts the leader and reprimands the other two Stooges for also being incompetent. So, say, The Stooges making a mess of the horse, like in the preview print, would work great for them, but not for Keaton, a deadpan comedian who usually has more cleverness of gag than incompetence. What is in the new print is a great mid short chase between Keaton and Joe Roberts (who is wonderful here). Some fantastic stuff, like Keaton losing the wheel and running over Big Joe, locking Joe in the building, avoiding Joe on a pulley, and the absolute classic silhouetted girl getting dressed in the window. Both Buster and Joe see a striking figure in the window, stop their chase, pull up a seat, sit down together, and admire the silhouetted female getting dressed. The second the show is over, they resume their chase. That's clever and funny, and much more suits Keaton than being a buffoon and getting oil on a horse.
THE BLACKSMITH, even in it's release print, is not a perfect film. After the initial proposal scene, things become suddenly episodic with the introduction of characters who would chase Keaton at the end, and the ruining of the car gag keeps some of the unnecessary Stooge humor, but there's still some cool stuff. Always have loved the magnet gag in the beginning, a wonderful sight gag that has always stuck with me memory wise and defined this short in my mind. I also dig Keaton using the kid's balloon to hold the car up as he puts on the tire and love the way Big Joe tries to hit Keaton with the car door yet misses as Keaton is under the open window portion of the car door. A mini precursor to the more famous open window gag in STEAMBOAT BILL, JR.
We're onto Keaton's "weak" shorts now and so many lesser comedians would kill to make films this good. Keaton in the twenties is truly one of the mind blowingly awesome artistic runs in my world. As far as better official versions showing up during a prime run, let's hope EVEN AS I.O.U. was a preview tease and they'll discover the real version soon. I'm not holding my breath.