Buster Keaton’s second feature film after the not amazingly well-received Three Ages and a multitude of shorts, Our Hospitality is an early sign towards Keaton’s genius.
The film tells the simple story of two feuding families, the Canfields and the McKays. After a family member is killed on both sides, the Canfields vow revenge on the remaining members of the McKays. 20 years later, Willie McKay (played by Keaton), who had been sent away as a small child to get him away from the feud, comes back to town to claim his inheritance. On his way, he meets a beautiful young lady, who of course happens to be a Canfield, and the film follows Willie as he tries to avoid being killed by her evil father and brothers.
Being a film from 1923, it’s quite dated by today’s standards of course, but that doesn’t stop it from being a fun, exciting and beautiful little film. The humour is very light when compared with the types of comedies we get today, but some of the little touches and nuances of Keaton’s performance are so good it still holds up. The amount of effort that goes into some of the visual gags is astounding too, with some wonderful scenes concerning an early steam train having to make it’s way across the wilderness. The reconstruction of this is meticulous and a lot of humour is drawn from it.
Speaking of effort, as usual with any Keaton film his acrobatic physicality is incredible and you can clearly see the inspiration he must have on performers such as Jackie Chan. OK, so Buster Keaton isn’t going to roundhouse-kick anyone in the face, but his physical comedy and stuntwork is virtually unrivaled, especially for the time. The big finale where Keaton saves his sweetheart from a waterfall is stunningly well choreographed and nail-bitingly tense.
One other aspect that impressed me was how well shot and designed the film was considering the age and genre. Most studio comedies in the 20’s were simply churned out with little thought to craftsmanship, whereas Our Hospitality, along with most of Keatons films, were lovingly made with some decent elements of drama alongside the gags. The opening scene for example is quite powerful and dark considering what is generally expected from a film of it’s type.
In short, Our Hospitality is not a film that will have you continuously roaring with laughter and most of the stunts aren’t as flashily exhilarating as in a modern action film, but considering it’s over 80 years old, it’s mightily impressive and still delivered enough entertainment to keep this action junkie happy for 70 minutes.
Reviewed by David Brook