Neighbors (1920)    2 Stars


Neighbors (1920)

Director: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton

Cast: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts

Synopsis: A young couple who live next to each other in tenement apartments do everything they can to be together despite of their feuding families.






Buster Keaton and Virginia Fox are star-crossed lovers living either side of an alley bisected by a fence. Their families disapprove of one another for no given reason, although their sole source of enmity appears to be the aforementioned love of The Boy and The Girl. From such a thin premise, Keaton crafts a superior comedy which rarely strays from that alleyway. Chaplin said he needed just a policeman, a park bench and a pretty girl; well, Keaton needed only an alley and a fence. That fence works as a prop through and over which Keaton stages a number of gags ranging from the mistaken identities of the senders and intended recipients of love messages delivered through a convenient knot hole, to a see-saw plank nailed over its doorway.

As you’d expect from a Keaton movie, there’s a large number of physical gags, all of which are funny. The highlight, however, comes when Keaton calls upon two friends to transport him from his bedroom window to that of his beloved. The three men achieve this by standing on one another’s shoulders to form a three-man tower in a stunt which has to be seen to be believed. An earlier routine, however, which sees Keaton spending a couple of minutes’ screen time with his head trapped in the earth, is strangely disturbing. Had it lasted twenty seconds it would have been funny, but the length of the gag makes it increasingly uncomfortable to watch.

Overall, Neighbors shows Keaton continuing to develop as a solo comedian, even though he still hadn’t quite mastered the Stone Face for which he became famous. The man playing Keaton’s screen father, by the way, is his real father, Joe Keaton.

(Reviewed 11th September 2014)