The Scarecrow (1920)
Director: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Cast: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline, Luke the Dog
Synopsis: Two inventive farmhands compete for the hand of the same girl.
One of the earliest shorts made by Buster Keaton following his amicable split from his erstwhile mentor Roscoe Arbuckle, The Scarecrow is a twenty minute short that fills every second of its running time with gags. And while Arbuckle makes no appearance, his dog Luke almost runs away with the picture in a supporting role, demonstrating all the skill and timing you’d expect from a veteran of 12 movies. Sadly, this was to be Luke’s final role — his screen career was to be destroyed in the fallout from the false accusations of rape levelled against his master in 1921.
The film opens in the home of Buster and his housemate (Joe Roberts), two farmhands who have perfected the concept of the ingeniously efficient home. Every piece of furniture, every fitting, serves at least two purposes in this peculiar house: a record player is also a stove, a bath folds up to become a sofa after first tipping its water into the duck pond outside, and pillows become cushions; at meal times condiments hang from the ceiling on elasticated string, and the crockery is glued to the detachable table top so that it can be hung on the wall and hosed clean after each meal.
Buster and his mate seem to live in perfect harmony, but a rift in their friendship soon becomes apparent when Buster spies his housemate kissing a picture of the farmer’s daughter, on whom he too is sweet. The two men become even more competitive when actually in the company of the girl (Sybil Seely — Convict 13), much to the annoyance of her father, who also happens to be the duo’s employer. In fact, the boys seem to spend more time vying to win the girl’s hand than they do performing any work duties.
The Scarecrow is a simple movie with no ambition other than to create as many laughs as possible in the time available to it. This it does immaculately, with barely a moment to draw breath between the manic stunts and gags. The highlight is a sequence in which Buster mistakenly believes a dog, who has just helped itself to the farmer’s daughter’s pie, to be rabid and struggles in vain to flee from the pursuing creature. The two end up running atop the roofless walls of an incomplete house at breakneck speed without once losing their footing. It’s a sight to behold, and demonstrates once again the insane lengths to which Keaton was prepared to go in order to win a laugh. Priceless stuff.
(Reviewed 9th August 2014)