BOAT, THE (Buster/Eddie Cline Keaton, 1921, USA, 26m, BW)
Directed by Buster Keaton
Edward F. Cline
Produced by Joseph M. Schenck
Written by Buster Keaton
Edward F. Cline
Starring Buster Keaton
Cinematography Elgin Lessley
Distributed by First National Pictures
November 10, 1921
Country United States
Buster is married with two children (both of whom wear the porkpie hat made famous by Keaton). He has built a large boat he has christened Damfino inside his home. When he finishes and decides to take the boat out to sea, he discovers it is too large to fit through the door. Buster enlarges the opening a bit, but when he tows the boat out, it proves to be a bit bigger than he estimated, and the house collapses, utterly. Buster loses his car during the attempt to launch the boat. The boat passes with impunity under the exceedingly low bridges of the Venice (California) canals thanks to Buster's boat design.
While out on the Pacific, Buster and his family are caught in a terrible storm. The boat is barely seaworthy to begin with, and it does not help that Buster nails a picture up inside the boat, causing an improbable leak, or when he further drills through the bottom of the boat to let the water out (resulting in a spectacular gusher of a leak). He radios a Morse Code call for help, but when the navy or coast guard operator asks who it is, he answers, "d-a-m-f-i-n-o" (in Morse Code). The man interprets it as "damn if I know" and dismisses the call as a prank. Taking to a (ridiculously small) dinghy (that is in fact a bathtub), Buster and his family wash up on a deserted beach in dark of night. "Where are we?" asks his wife (via an intertitle), to which Buster replies, "Damn if I know" (mouthing the words to the camera, no intertitle is used).
The Boat was one of Keaton’s favourites, and still stands up pretty well today. He’s a family man, the proud architect of a boat called Damfino which he constructed in the cellar of his home. Unfortunately, he gave no thought to how he was going to get Damfino through a doorway that is only half as wide as the boat and has to resort to physically removing much of the brickwork around the door. Even this isn’t enough, however, and the house collapses as the boat tears down the wall that confines it. Undaunted by this setback, Keaton and his family reach the harbour only to encounter a further series of mishaps. Their car plunges into the water, while the boat sinks immediately upon launching. After somehow getting it back to the surface, Keaton then conspires to sink Damfino once more by nailing a picture to the boat’s hull below the waterline.
The Boat is another solid Keaton comedy. He seemed incapable of producing anything but classics during this period of his career, and his ideas were consistently fresh and funny. Keaton’s regular co-star Sybil Seely (One Week, Convict 13) makes her final appearance in one of his films before retiring to marry writer Jules Furthman.
In contrast to his full lengths films, all the highlights come early. There's a classic scene wher Keaton's house comes tumbling down when he drives his newly finished handmade boat out of the garage. What makes it great is not the destruction, but the fact that Buster doesn't react to it, instead digging through the wreckage for something to replace the lifeboat with, a bathtub! The car winds up in the ocean, and when Keaton finally sets sail he goes down with the ship! Keaton always got as much as he could out of his props, which was a lot more than the others. That said, though the premise of the problems building a boat causes him and his family is good, the comedy begins to sag toward the end with too much rocking and rolling over stuff. Still, it's hard to complain when you figure today they'd just have an explosion every few minutes and none of them would be an attempt at humor.
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