Set on the Mississippi River in the old sidewheeler days, Steamboat Bill Jr. follows the adventures of a spoiled young man who is forced by his crusty father to learn the ropes of river-boating. Soon, his attempts expand into disaster…
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Before Keaton made "the worst decision he ever made" by singing to MGM, he made one of his best films. It has a deceptively simple story w/ a universal theme (a son wanting his father's approval), its genius is not only in the hilarious gags but also in how the film is structure. Starting off slow, then building until it erupts in a physical comedy showdown. it may not beat The General, but it's one of Keaton's best.
"Shrimp" (lol) paces against the wind; "I know what it is: you are ashamed of my baking" haha - serve hard-boiled dads this type of effeminate flirt only when sturdy jail bars cork up their irate delirium; when in the end Jr. leaps up the ship tiers to get hold of the steering wheel, the steamboat's a four-story, floating pagoda and though not sunken by the storm, the catawampus flotsam lends it a "Bateau ivre" air.
Weakest link of Keaton 'till the hurricane sequence. Roger Ebert says about that: "Keaton is famous for a shot in "Steamboat Bill, Jr.," where he stands in front of a house during a cyclone, and a wall falls on top of him; he is saved because he happens to be exactly where the window is. ... He refused to rehearse the stunt because, he explained, he trusted his set-up, so why waste a wall?"
A charmer. Its narrative doesn't cohere as well as Buster's very best—check out Sherlock Jr. and The Cameraman—feeling a bit too much like a string of gags in search of a forward momentum. Bonus points for the final string of wild mayhem, which is a corker. Sidenote: my god, this red state/blue state divide has been with us forever.