Sherlock Jr. (1924)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Sherlock Jr.</strong> (1924)

(Hoopla Streaming, October 2018) When I consciously decided to explore older movies, I semi-arbitrarily set 1920 as my limit—I wouldn’t actively seek out any movie earlier than the 1920s, and even that was going a bit past my preferences given my lack of enthusiasm for silent cinema. But there are a few silent movie stars that I really, really like and Buster Keaton is high on that list, even beating out Charlie Chaplin. Films like Sherlock Jr. illustrate why some silent 1920s are well worth watching even today. The first half of the film is a bit messy, as a young man working as a movie theatre usher daydreams about being an ultracompetent detective. It’s a set-up for various gags and the slow accumulation of the plot’s bare-bones: The girl, her unpleasant suitor and the protagonist’s rich imagination. But then the second half of Sherlock Jr. comes by, and all the brakes come loose. Suddenly, it’s not just a great pool-table sequence; it’s a wildly imaginative trip through cinema by a hero entering the movie screen and it’s a terrific chase sequence that has us both laughing and grabbing our armrests. The special effects are still amazing, and so is the dreamlike logic of the film’s second half, abandoning strict realism for sight gags and an imaginative build-up taking advantage of movie magic and, crucially, the power of editing. The film is around 50 minutes long, and it sometimes feels even faster thanks to the pace of the editing. Keaton suffered for this film (not only was he severely injured on-set, but he also experienced the failure of the film’s then-modest commercial and critical success) but the results more than speak for themselves. Sherlock Jr. is still a wild ride and a literal joy to watch.

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