Battling Butler



Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 67%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 76%
IMDb Rating 7.1 10 2373


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March 19, 2019 at 02:27 PM



Buster Keaton as Alfred 'Battling' Butler
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659.87 MB
23.976 fps
1hr 17 min
P/S 3 / 2
1.24 GB
23.976 fps
1hr 17 min
P/S 5 / 3

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by imogensara_smith 8 / 10

"Do you think you could learn to love me?"

It's curious that Buster Keaton, whose training was in a knockabout vaudeville act and slapstick comedy shorts, was so good at playing pampered, effete young millionaires. He just happened to be one of nature's aristocrats. Buster appreciated the comic possibilities of this character—starting out so helpless allowed plenty of room for dramatic development--and the role also suited his innate gentleness and quiet dignity.

Buster played wealthy idlers in several of his movies, including The Navigator, but he was never more placidly twitty than in Battling Butler. For the first half of the movie he looks like a 1920s fashion plate, exquisitely groomed, demonstrating What the Well-Dressed Man Will Wear for hunting, fishing, etc. He is Alfred Butler, whose tycoon father, annoyed by his son's languid existence, sends him an a camping expedition to toughen him up. In the mountains, he sleeps in a vast tent complete with bed, wardrobe and tiger rug; his faithful valet lays out his clothes, draws his bath, and serves his meals on silver dishes. This is my idea of roughing it! While attempting to hunt (obliviously missing every animal in the forest) and fish (capsizing his boat in pursuit of a bobbing duck), Alfred encounters a pretty "mountain girl" (Sally O'Neil.) They fall in love, but her family won't accept this sissy as an in-law until Alfred's valet tells them that his employer is actually Alfred "Battling" Butler, a boxer contending for the lightweight title.

Alfred goes along with the ruse for the sake of the girl. Then he encounters the real "Battling" Butler, and after a misunderstanding involving the boxer's wife, "Battling" tells Alfred that HE can fight the title bout with the "Alabama Murderer"—or he'll blow his cover. The rest of the film follows Alfred's difficulties as the trainers try to turn the playboy into a fighter. Along with the athletic sequences in his later movie College, these scenes offer the most sustained focus on Buster's extraordinary physique and what he could do with it.

With his small stature, Buster could convincingly portray a milquetoast as long as he kept his clothes on, but once he strips down to boxing shorts it's all too obvious how exceptionally fit he was. In the opening shot of the training sequence, he's obviously supposed to look puny and defenseless; instead he looks like he could easily be a boxer. Despite his sculpted body, Buster plays these scenes with a realism that renders them almost painful to watch. He reacts the way any normal, soft-bellied human being would to being mercilessly pummeled. He shows hurt and exhaustion, and displays his own nearly limitless endurance of both. Buster had, it must be said, an unhealthy capacity to take punishment. It wasn't masochism, just that his pride in his physical abilities and the authenticity of his stuntwork outweighed any concern for his own well-being. He must have been used to pain: as the star of an act renowned as the roughest in vaudeville, he'd been "taking it like a man" ever since he was a toddler.

At the end of the movie, "Battling" attacks Alfred viciously, and finally Alfred retaliates and beats the boxer unconscious. Many people dislike this fight, feeling it's uncharacteristic for Buster to triumph through brute force, sheer slugging, rather than ingenuity or pluck. The fight was Keaton's own addition to the play that was the source for the movie. The original ending simply let Alfred off the hook without having to fight, which Buster felt was dramatically unsatisfying. Pushed too far, humiliated too deeply, his meek character finally responds with fury and violence. It is uncharacteristic, but maybe he liked it for just that reason. Off-screen, Buster had a troubling passivity, especially in his unhappy married life, and he must have enjoyed playing a character who effectively fights back.

Still, I prefer the first half of the movie, with its gentle pace, low-key jokes and elegant touches. Alfred's valet is played by Snitz Edwards, a tiny actor (he makes Buster look imposing) with a goblin face and a delicate performing style. Cute as a button, Sally O'Neil makes one of Buster's most effective leading ladies. In a sweet image typical of Keaton's sophisticated film-making style, when Alfred parts from his wife, as he drives away her face remains framed, like a cameo, in the oval window at the back of the car.

Battling Butler was one of Keaton's most successful movies when it was released. Like Seven Chances and College, it lacks the otherworldly originality of his best work, but I've always liked it better than the other two and considered it a handsome, mature and underrated work. Lacking any large-scale set-pieces, this film rests almost entirely on Buster's performance. "Do you think you could learn to love me?" he asks Sally O'Neil. She replies, as I would: "I have."

Reviewed by Igenlode Wordsmith 9 / 10

A knock-down success

Neither the prospect of eighty minutes of biting headwind nor snow showers has been able to keep me from the National Film Theatre over the three weeks so far of its Buster Keaton season, and every time the films have yet to disappoint: "Battling Butler" is no exception! I'd instantly give this a 9 if only I could justify it relative to the early scenes; despite the pitch of enthusiasm I'd reached by the end of the film, I'm still not quite sure in all fairness that I can.

It definitely takes a while to get up to speed (at the start, I took the father to be a doctor giving his sickly son only three months to live!) and for the initial reel or so it depends largely on a single extended gag -- the elegant fop's complete unsuitability for an outdoor environment. Alfred's elaborate al-fresco living arrangements echo Keaton's trademark fascination with complicated contrivances, and there's one very typical bit of misdirection where we wait for the shotgun's recoil to knock Alfred backwards into the water, only for a somewhat different turn of events to prove his downfall; but this film doesn't come properly to life until its hero engages our sympathy as well as being a walking joke. In "The General", we engage with Johnnie Gray almost immediately -- in "Battling Butler", Alfred remained a cipher for me until the moment when he nervously rehearses "Beatrice Faircatch"'s newspaper advice on making a proposal, with such an earnest air: it's funny, but it's also touching, and it's no coincidence that it is with his subsequent first steps towards standing on his own two feet -- tearing up and throwing aside the useless newspaper column -- that Alfred Butler may finally be said to have progressed beyond a simple one-dimensional character, and the film can really begin.

From here on the picture becomes a Keaton classic, sweeping the hapless hero further and further from the cushioned normality of his life with a series of escalating and plausible coincidences. Ultimately the worm will turn, of course -- but not in the time and manner that we are expecting. And Keaton acts here not just with that famous face but with every line of his whole body: triumph, exhaustion, despair, apprehension, indignation, timidity, pugnacity... and finally, in the last scene, sublime confidence in his own skin, modelling a costume so incongruous that only Buster Keaton could carry it off with such genuine elegance!

The scenes of Alfred's ordeal are hilarious and moving by degrees -- it's almost impossible to analyse Keaton's appeal. 'Sweet' is quite definitely the wrong word, as is 'lovable': Buster is no Little Tramp. 'Bittersweet' might be closer to the mark... or 'poignant'; the metaphor of the man who gets knocked down but keeps on trying has never been more apt. There is a brief vivid moment when Alfred, bewildered and worn out, turns his face aside into the arms of his second with such a hopeless little air that instead of a laugh, it raised a murmur of pity from the auditorium. But Keaton never allows himself to milk the audience for sympathy -- the best of his films may mingle laughter through tears, but he never falls into the trap of sentimentality.

I'm not sure if this is among the best of Keaton's films... but it's certainly one of those I've ultimately enjoyed the most so far. I've changed my mind: I'll give it a 9 after all, and say I'm dropping a mark down instead from a 10! :-)

Reviewed by slokes 8 / 10

Snitz Arranges It

Sybil Seely, Marceline Day, Brown Eyes: All of Buster Keaton's best on-screen partners were female. All but one. Snitz Edwards here plays Buster's faithful valet, a gnomish, gentle character whose eagerness to arrange whatever his master wants lands him in trouble.

Buster is Alfred Butler, rich and so passive he lets Snitz tap the ash off his cigarette. While on a camping trip, he meets a girl (Sally O'Neil) who strikes his fancy. Her father and brother disapprove of her going off with a "jellyfish." Snitz to the rescue: He tells them this is the same "Battling Butler" who just won the lightweight boxing crown. Alas, the ruse works too well.

You can argue that Snitz plays the title character here as much as Buster or Francis McDonald, who plays the boxer Butler. Whether laying out a ridiculously ornate table at Buster's camp site or laboring to keep up with his boss during an arduous run through the mud, there's no give-up in the guy.

"I'd like to marry that pretty little mountain girl" Buster says.

"Shall I arrange it?" Snitz answers. Buster nods, setting the plot in motion.

Like a lot of silent comedies, this is a film of pieces. The first half, of Buster and Snitz roughing it in the outdoors, could be a clever short all by itself. Buster's idea of duck-hunting is to row up to one wading in the water, and then lean out of the boat to point a shotgun at it at point-blank range. You expect him to fire and roll off from the gun's kickback, so naturally that's the one thing that doesn't happen.

The transition to the boxing comedy is well done, helped along by Snitz, McDonald, and O'Neil, really a cutie with her Zooey Deschanel eyes. It's O'Neil's desperate desire to see her man in the ring duking it out that forces Buster and Snitz to scramble in the last half-hour or so, coming up with all sorts of ruses. The comedy wears a bit thin at times with some protracted workout scenes in the boxing ring, yet Buster goes a long way to selling them with his amazingly elastic physicality.

Buster doesn't wear a porkpie in this film, and his pampered lifestyle distances you a bit more than his inexpressiveness usually did, but he has that dogged quality of classic Keaton heroes. He may not be the champion boxer his girl thinks he is, but he'll not give her up without a fight. "I'm going back and tell her the truth," he tells Snitz. "I'd rather lose her that way."

It's funny how "Battling Butler" doesn't really engage a lot of Keaton fans. Perhaps there's some resentment there because it was a hit for Buster right before "The General" flopped. Taken on its own merits, "Battling Butler" is a clever and engaging comedy with a likeably different lead role for Buster and a surprising double-twist ending, in which Buster (and the audience) have the wool lifted from their eyes one minute, only for Buster to do the same with us the next.

Maybe "Battling Butler" isn't as inventive as Keaton fans are used to, but it has its share of arresting visuals and a solid mix of varied comedic moments that still connect. Plus it works as a story all the way through. Finally there's the winning chemistry of Buster and Snitz, The Great Stoneface and The Great Cragface.

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