Kino Lorber // 1927 // 63 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 19th, 2013
You'll graduate with a perpetual smile!
What's your favorite Buster Keaton film? The General? Great flick, absolutely. Steamboat Bill, Jr.? Another tremendous effort. Those two films arguably represent the high point of Keaton's career, that moment when star power and creative resources were at their peak. However, the film Keaton made between those two masterworks is much less-discussed: College, a cheerfully silly romp in which the star plays a lovestruck young man attempting to woo a beautiful co-ed. Is it as inventive and masterfully-constructed as the two films that surround it? No, not quite. But it's nonetheless a pleasant demonstration of the man's talent that offers more than enough laughs over the course of its brief 65-minute running time.
We first meet Keaton (referred to in the credits as, "A Son") as a high school graduate. He's the smartest student at his school, and he's preparing to give a speech on why education should be valued far more than athletics. Alas, the girl (Anne Cornwall, Men O'War) Keaton loves seems to be more interested in muscles than brains, which leaves Keaton feeling more than a little helpless. When Keaton and Cornwall both end up enrolling in the same college, the former determines that he's going to do whatever it takes to impress the latter. So begins a series of comic set pieces in which Keaton either A) fails miserably at trying to achieve some sort of athletic feat or B) fails miserably at attempting to hold down a job in an effort to pay for his tuition.
Sure, the film's plot is little more than a flimsy excuse to let Keaton engage in his trademark brand of physical comedy, but there's nothing wrong with that. Most of these lengthy comic sequences are immensely charming, particularly Keaton's attempts to become a track-and-field star. He hurls himself over the high jump pole and lands head first in the sand; victoriously kicking his feet in the air like a giddy frog. When he attempts to jump over a series of hurdles, he manages to knock over nearly every one of them. When he actually clears the last hurdle, he looks over his shoulder at the mess he has made. Sighing in dismay, he knocks over the final hurdle for good measure.
This being a comedy made in 1927, it shouldn't come as a surprise that a bit of old-fashioned Hollywood racism manages to creep in. One sequence involves Keaton donning blackface and taking a job at a restaurant run by an exclusively black wait staff. It's pretty much par for the course considering the era in which the film was made, but that doesn't make it any less uncomfortable in 2013. As with so many similar scenes in so many vintage films, it serves as an important reminder of what was considered socially acceptable at the time. On its own terms as a comic set piece, it's generally less inventive than most of the others.
The most surprising moments in the film come late in the proceedings. They're light touches that add a great deal of emotional depth and humanity to the flick. I won't spoil either of them for you, but the first involves a personal confession of sorts from Keaton's professor while the second is a startling, bold montage that concludes the film. Again, these elements are presented gently enough that they don't disrupt the film's charmingly silly tone, but they nonetheless enrich it considerably. College may not be one of Keaton's very best films, but it certainly features one of his best endings.
College (Blu-ray) has received a respectable 1080p/Full Frame transfer. It's not exactly a knockout disc, but it looks pretty sharp when you take the film's age into account. There are scratches, flecks and moments of heavy noise throughout, but detail is also fairly strong. The image looks warm and natural; no noise reduction or other artificial tampering turns up at any point. While some new releases of silent films have been accompanied by multiple audio tracks, this one only receives one score (courtesy of organist John Muri). However, it's a stellar effort that does a fine job of accentuating Keaton's antics without becoming too repetitive or distracting. Supplements include an audio commentary from film historian Rob Farr, a "Tour of Filming Locations" featurette and a half-hour infomercial called "The Scribe." That last item is particularly interesting, as it contains Keaton's final filmed performance. While the special is creatively limited due to its commercial nature, Keaton is a charming host who manages to make the whole thing a surprisingly engaging watch.
College is a consistently fun Keaton flick that contains a handful of genuinely exceptional moments. Kino's Blu-ray release is strong, too. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* Full Frame (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (Silent)
* English (Intertitles)
Running Time: 63 Minutes
Release Year: 1927
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film