Saphead [1920]

Before Buster Keaton made his name as one of the silent cinema's most accomplished and creative comics, he starred in this conventional but cute comedy based on the Broadway play The New Henrietta (previously made into the Douglas Fairbanks vehicle The Lamb). Keaton plays the spoiled son of a millionaire unjustly accused of scandalous behavior and tossed into a bustling world that he's completely unprepared for. Apart from the energetic finale, in which he leaps, slides, and wrestles with Wall Street lions on the stock exchange floor, Keaton is given little opportunity for comic gymnastics and the comedy stays safe and conventional. The Saphead is a completely genial and entertaining film carried by Keaton's sweet charm and plucky naiveté and it made him a star, but it's ultimately a footnote to a career that later blossomed in creative inspiration. Keaton revived the figure of the clueless social dandy with his self-directed features The Navigator and Battling Butler. Also featured are Keaton's first two solo shorts: "The High Sign," a knockabout lark in which Keaton infiltrates a secret society of criminals, and "One Week," an inspired gem with newlywed Buster mangling a do-it-yourself house. --Sean Axmaker

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