Our Hospitality (John G. Blystone & Buster Keaton, 1923)
A man returns to his Appalachian homestead. On the trip, he falls for a young woman. The only problem is her family has vowed to kill every member of his family.
Buster Keaton with his second full length feature film shows sparks of genius on the eve of being the great master he was during the golden era of his career from 1923 to 1928. In 1928, he sold his rights to MGM and lost control over his films.
Opening with a prologue telling the facts of a feud that historically occurred between the McCoy and the Hatfield, Keaton transposes with his John McKay/Canfield opposition. Being the only heir of John McKay, the young McKay (Keaton) inherits the family’s estate twenty years after the tragic feud that got both the latest son of each family killed in a gun battle. On his way back from New York City, the place he was raised away from the menace of the Canfield family, young McKay meets Victoria (Nathalie Talmadge, Keaton’s wife) and falls in love for her. What he’ll later discover is that she is the daughter of the Canfield clan.
Set in the 1830’s, this period piece romance drama and comedy uses many different tones and elements of humor. First, it exploits the changes in society without being really a physical type of humor. Keaton slowly sets his story and brings us to his climax. With a long sequence in the train where the young couple meets and get along each other. Filled with many subtle but very keen gags, this sequence is pure genius and astonishing for a Keaton comedy. It is the final moments of the movie with the chase and the waterfall scene are still gripping and are key moments of physical comedy. They are what we ask for in this kind of superb comedy. A Keaton enthusiast acquainted to The General or Sherlock Jr. and even Steamboat Bill Jr. will be a little disoriented in front of the low key elements of comedy of the first half of the film. But once into the film the geniality of Buster Keaton’s mise en scène and gags will get the most of any cinephile willing to let himself appreciate intelligent comedy.
As a whole, Our Hospitality doesn’t have the quality of the aforementioned films but it proves that Keaton and Blystone (co-directing) had the flair and talent to switch from two reels to feature films. The biggest flaw is the lack of character depth and even the young McKay doesn’t really have much background. Victoria and his family is one-dimensional and we only know that they hate the McKays. Another aspect of Our Hospitality is that we feel that Keaton is still exploring and testing the pacing of a 75 minutes movie. However, Our Hospitality is far from being a disaster it is an inspired very good gem. Recommended.