Rating: ★★★★½ out of 5
Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. stands alone as one of the most innovative comedies to come out of Hollywood’s silent era. Keaton stars as a down-on-his-luck movie projectionist who falls in love with a young woman, but is cheated out of her affection by another man. He then falls asleep at his job and has a dream in which he walks straight into the movie being played. In the movie within the movie, he portrays a heroic (albeit comical) detective who must save the day in order to get the girl.
The film follows the Classical Hollywood style pretty closely, but it stands out among silent comedies for several reasons, namely the experimental and highly innovative stylistic choices. One unique aspect of Sherlock Jr. is the extensive use of special effects to convey the main character’s dream. By superimposing a shot of Keaton standing up and leaving the room, he appears to leave his own body. Then by seamlessly switching between a stage performance and actual film, Keaton is able to climb into the movie being shown. He then finds himself thrust into different landscapes and scenarios with each new shot. Once in the dream world, Keaton uses various special effects (explosive billiard balls, trap doors, etc.) to create comically unrealistic situations.
This is a very entertaining film and the humor has aged surprisingly well. It trumps Chaplin’s Easy Street in many ways, but primarily because it benefits from a larger budget and a more complex and engaging plot. The ending is particularly memorable, as they employ a subtle sex joke in the last two shots, a decision that was probably viewed as being risqué at the time. Overall, Sherlock Jr. is a very well made comedy that can still be readily enjoyed by modern audiences.
Sherlock Jr. is available purchase via Amazon here.