Jesus H. Christ. 90 years later and I still can't figure out how some of those stunts were done? Fucking genius. Keaton has eyes like goddamned poetry -my only complaint is that there weren't enough close ups as I would watch Keaton read the phone book (silently, obviously). Slapstick paper cuts? Yes, please. The General (1926) is probably regarded as his best work, but this is a very, very close second.
The film seems like a slow burner with Keaton and Steamboat Bill quietly simmering throughout but lacking steam until the final section where one of Buster's most admirable sequences take over and puts this film on the map. The visual gags are quite scattered and understated and the story feels pedestrian until the final fight against the wind elevates the best stuntman in history to the upper echelons of cinema.
Chaplin is often cited as the king of silent era comedy, but I do not find that to be fair. It may be true, but it is a title he shares with his counterpart: Buster Keaton. What is so amazing about Keaton is his impeccable skill as an acrobatic stuntman. The things he does physically in this film are often jaw dropping, and certainly not the kind of thing you would see today (mostly because it is insanely dangerous).
"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.
Buster Keaton was a genius and one of the most ambitious filmmakers of all time. Nearly every shot during the storm final scene is perfect, making Steamboat Bill Jr. such a remarkably iconic film. Keaton always had a flair for stunt work, and this film features some of his best. Chaplin always had a better sense of emotion, but Keaton comes close here.
"The phrase [Hollywood Magic] gets thrown around a lot these days, but..." when the hospital walls get torn away and we find Keaton seated neatly in his bed and then blown through a whirlwind of small town apocalyptic mayhem...well...I'm not entitled to ask anything more from a comedy shot in 1928, let alone from anything shot more recently.
Film comedy begins, and in many ways, ends with the great silents of which this is singularly outstanding. Here, the town's falling apart is audacious and awe-inspiring... but I laughed my butt off even more when Keaton wears funny hats and plays the ukulele. Pratfalls shmatfalls.