Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Buster Keaton Show: Buster in Training (Consolidated Television Productions, 1950)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The download was a 1950 half-hour TV episode of something called The Buster Keaton Show, a live telecast from L.A. (supposedly the only episode from this series known to exist!) sponsored by the Studebaker Dealers of Los Angeles (and since my stepfather had a 1950 Studebaker there was a personal bit of nostalgia for me in looking at that car, with its spacecraft-style front end designed by the legendary Raymond Loewy, again!), in which Keaton (in his 50’s and definitely looking the worse for wear — the years of alcoholism had taken their toll on him, though he was still surprisingly spry physically and it was amazing how well he was able to do slapstick live!) plays a man who goes in for physical training and ends up practicing in the ring with a fighter who’s legendary for beating the crap out of anyone who looks on his wife with lust. The script, not surprisingly (especially given that Clyde Bruckman, one of Keaton’s key collaborators from his glory years in the 1920’s, is one of the credited writers), rips off a lot of the Keaton silents, including Battling Butler and Spite Marriage, and the tackiness of the production has to be seen to be believed (not only the cheesy sets common to live TV shows but the audible mistakes made by the actors), but Keaton manages to maintain his dignity and be quite amusing if not as laugh-out-loud funny as he was in the 1920’s. Ironically, within five years Clyde Bruckman, broke (largely because he’d been sued for plagiarism by Harold Lloyd — for reusing gags Bruckman had originally creted for Lloyd!) and out of work, shot himself in a Beverly Hills restaurant with a gun Keaton had loaned him — a real pity for the co-director of Keaton’s greatest films, Sherlock, Jr. and The General, as well as two of W. C. Fields’ best, the short The Fatal Glass of Beer and the feature The Man on the Flying Trapeze.