Steamboat Bill, Jr: Special Edition (1928)

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Released 16-Aug-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Menu Animation & Audio
Featurette-The Boat (27:03)
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1928
Running Time 69:06
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Charles F. Reisner
Studio
Distributor

Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Buster Keaton
Ernest Torrence
Marion Byron
Tom Lewis
Tom McGuire
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $32.95 Music Gaylord Carter


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Once again, we find Force Video trolling through the classic films from the Eureka Video DVD catalogue. This occasion sees them returning to the filmography of one of the true greats of comedy in the brilliant Buster Keaton, and bringing out the classic gem Steamboat Bill Jr. Naturally enough, when this release was announced and the DVD became available for review, I gleefully stuck my hand up and volunteered for the onerous task of reviewing it. Aside from the fact that the man was a genius as far as comedy was concerned, the feature films tend to hold their comic value far better than many modern comedy films. And this one contains perhaps one of the classic scenes from all of Buster Keaton's films - a scene that in many ways epitomises the essence of the silent comedy era. Steamboat Bill Jr. is also noteworthy as being, I believe, his last major feature for United Artists before heading over to Metro Goldwyn Mayer, where he really failed for whatever reason to reach the levels he established in the United Artists period.

    William Canfield Jr (Buster Keaton) has been away at college in Boston and has telegraphed his father Steamboat Bill, William Canfield (Ernest Torrance) that he will be visiting. Now Steamboat Bill is the owner of a stern-wheeler paddle steamer called Stonewall Jackson which has been operating successfully from River Junction for many a year. However, the town is pretty well owned by local businessman J.J. King (Tom McGuire) and he has now brought to town a much bigger and much better stern wheeler named King. Determined to drive Steamboat Bill out of business, things are naturally not too good between these two rivals. And so when Steamboat Bill finds out that his son, whom he has not seen since he was a baby, is coming to visit, he is quite pleased. However, the expectations of what his son would be like are not met at all when the slightly built and slightly effete young man steps off the train at the local station. Also arriving in town for a visit with her father that day is Kitty King (Marion Byron), and it would not surprise anyone to know that she is actually a good friend of Steamboat Bill Jr. Naturally, neither knows what the other's father does, and the family connections start to weigh heavily on their burgeoning relationship - as in neither father is happy to have their child going out with the other. Anyway, since he is in town, Steamboat Bill Jr gets kitted out, albeit with the aid of Kitty, to work on Stonewall Jackson. Steamboat Bill is not thrilled with the whole thing, especially as Steamboat Bill Jr is doing his damnedest to get to see Kitty. Things get a little worse when King gets the Stonewall Jackson condemned, and Steamboat Bill ends up in jail. But when a cyclone descends upon the town, wreaking all sorts of havoc, Steamboat Bill Jr and Stonewall Jackson have the last laugh.

    As I have said before about films from this period, the plot is pretty straightforward and does not really amount to all that much. However, the plot is not the point when the star is Buster Keaton, and he gets his almost unique style of comedy working. Once again, he does more than enough to produce another quintessential Buster Keaton film, and one that still raises a laugh even seventy three years on. Unlike many a Buster Keaton film, the supporting cast are not entirely along for the ride and in particular Ernest Torrance has a decent role and produces a decent performance, somewhat more noteworthy than the average supporting cast performance from such a film.

    Also as I have said before this is the sort of comedy that I never tire of watching. Frankly, with silent film so reliant upon visual comedy, it seems only natural that we have lost the art in modern films, which is a great pity as the visual comedy here is, as ever, utterly superb. Another essential purchase for lovers of classic comedy of the silent era.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Seventy four years old and counting. Yet again the source material was subjected to restoration, this time in 1991, so whilst there is certainly significant improvement over the unrestored quality, there are still problems here. However, there are probably less problems here than in the previous release, College, but I would love to see the ilk of The Criterion Collection getting their hands on this sort of material and giving it a thorough restoration.

    We are talking about a film of the silent era, and therefore the transfer is presented in a Full Frame format, a very close approximation to the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The transfer is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    One of the main issues with the transfer afforded College was the lack of consistency in the sharpness. This transfer is noticeably improved in this regard, and this is generally a nicely sharp transfer for its age, and it barely suffers any lapses. The only slight downer in the transfer from the sharpness point of view was between 50:00 and 50:30, where the picture is quite noticeably diffuse. There is, however, nothing really serious in the way of murkiness in the transfer. This is one of the more watchable transfers amongst these silent films that we have yet seen from Eureka Video. Clarity is actually pretty good all things considered, and much more uniform than has hitherto been the norm in my recollection. Shadow detail is quite reasonable too. Grain did not seem to be much of an issue here. There did not seem to be any real issue with low level noise in the transfer.

    The black and white is again quite decent, although obviously the age of the material means that there is something of a lack of depth to the black tones throughout. However, it is still better than just a collection of murky grey tones and is not a really constricted range of tones at all. The balance in the tones is quite good and does not display any really wide variations in brightness, with the result that this is quite a reasonably natural looking transfer overall.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There did not appear to be any significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer, with just a few instances of reasonably minor aliasing here and there (such as at 2:32). There are obviously some decent examples of film artefacts in the transfer.

    Overall the transfer is better than the earlier College and is probably approaching the quality of The General, and is generally quite watchable.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    With this being a silent film, we get the obligatory single soundtrack on offer on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Obviously it carries the musical accompaniment only, which sounds of distinctly more recent vintage than the film.

    There are plenty of audio sync issues here obviously, since there is nothing to be heard apart from music!

    The musical accompaniment appears to be the work of Gaylord Carter, but it is nothing more than a typical attempt to provide some auditory accompaniment to the on-screen comedy - no easy task I suppose.

    There is nothing wrong with the soundtrack per se, as it is clean and clear with no evidence of hiss or other distortion.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Once again, Eureka Video has done us the wonderful service of adding one of Buster Keaton's many short films as an extra to the main feature. This one is also an especially apt matching of feature and short.

Menu

    Decent enough with some reasonable audio and animation enhancement to aid the situation.

Featurette - The Boat (27:03)

    This short film dates from 1921 and is another wonderful piece of comedy from the Buster Keaton filmography! The ever suffering Sybil Seely once again stars with Buster Keaton in this story about a boat builder. Now the boat builder happens to be the erstwhile Buster Keaton and so we know this is going to be a funny look at the task - especially when it starts out with the boat being built in the lower level of a two storey house. Eventually the boat is released and gets let loose on the sea, to much merriment. And the boat itself has a lovely name, The Damfino, which enables a couple of gorgeous word plays to be made in the film. Even though this is a silent film, you don't need really terrific lip-reading skills to be able to understand what the final denouement from Buster Keaton is all about. Whilst it is presented in the same format as the main feature, if you want to see how bad film of this age can look, then just look at this! It suffers enormously from lost emulsion (at least that is the guess) and especially in small blocks: 6:00 to 6:30 and 9:10 to 9:20 are good examples how bad this restored material looks. There is also a sequence between 23:15 and 23:45 where there is a thick black line across the top of the film and there seems to be missing material above this line. I would really hate to see how bad this was before the restoration! Still, despite all the inherent problems with the source material, the sheer comic nature of the film overcomes everything. This really is a very funny short and you will almost certainly find yourself laughing out loud, even at jokes that we have probably seen many times before.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There is no really equivalent release in Region 1 to this Region 4 release. The film itself is on a Region 1 DVD along with two short films: Convict 13 from 1920 and Daydreams from 1922. I have not been able to track down any really reliable reviews of the DVD so am unable to make any specific comments on it. However, I am guessing that the source material would probably be much the same, and therefore it seems logical that there would be no great difference between the Region 1 release and this Region 4 release. Probably call it even in the absence of any overriding concerns.

Summary

    Once again you should forget the actual transfer quality here, although this concession is not as great as previously, and consider the quality of the comedy. Steamboat Bill Jr. is another good example of the art of Buster Keaton and the coupling with the extremely funny The Boat far outweighs the technical limitations here. Another essential buy if you enjoy classic comedy that we do not see nowadays.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Saturday, July 21, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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Comments (Add)
Is the new Madman release any better ? - Bran (my bio, or something very like it)
The answer is: YES - Bran (my bio, or something very like it)