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Our Hospitality (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

March 2, 2011 by  



Another fantastic Buster Keaton on Blu-ray release from KINO! “Our Hospitality” showcases Buster Keaton’s creativity, upping the ante earlier in his career in dangerous and risky stuntwork and a story loosely-based on the Hatfield-McCoy feud.  A film full of gags and action, definitely a Buster Keaton film worth having in your silent film collection!

Images courtesy of © 2011 Kino International Corp. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Our Hospitality

FILM RELEASE: 1923

DURATION: 75 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: B&W, Color Tinted, 1080i High Definition, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo

COMPANY: Kino International

RATED: N/A

Release Date: March 22, 2011

Directed by John G. Blystone, Buster Keaton

Story by Jean C. Havez, Clyde Bruckman, Joseph A. Mitchell

Produced by Joseph M. Schenk

Music by Carl Davis, performed by the Thames Silents Orchestra, also a musical score by Donald Hunsberger

Cinematography by Gordon Jennings and Elgin Lessley

Art Direction by Fred Gabourie

Costume Design by Walter J. Israel

Starring:

Buster Keaton as Willie McKay (21 Years Old)

Natalie Talmadge – The Girl, Virginia (Canfield’s Daughter)

Joe Roberts as Joseph Canfield

Ralph Bushman as Canfield’s Son

Craig Ward as Canfield’s Son

Monte Collins as The Parson

Joe Keaton as The Engineer

Kitty Bradbury as Aunt Mary

Buster Keaton Jr. as Willie McKay (1 Year Old)

Like his 1926 film The General, this elaborate historical comedy broadened the boundaries of slapstick and proved that Keaton was not just a comedian, he was an artist.

Keaton stars as youthful dreamer Willie McKay, who travels westward on a rickety locomotive to claim his birthright, only to find that his inheritance is a shack. And he learns that the object of his affection (Keaton’s real-life wife, Natalie Talmadge) is the daughter of a man with whom his family has been engaged in a long, violent feud. McKay’s personal struggles are punctuated by brilliant slapstick setpieces that involve an exploding dam, raging waterfalls, and a primitive steam engine. Keaton supervised the design and construction of the train, which he revived two years later for the short The Iron Mule (in which he appears without credit as an Native American chief).

This definitive edition of OUR HOSPITALITY features an exquisite orchestral score by Carl Davis, performed by the Thames Silents Orchestra; a documentary on the making of the film; and a rare alternate cut entitled Hospitality.

The year was 1923 and for actor Buster Keaton, it was a make it or break it year as he would make his transition from shorts to feature films.

Which started with “Three Ages”, Keaton would follow up with “Our Hospitality”which would star actress Natalie Talmadge (Keaton’s wife at the time) and a film that was produced by Joseph M. Schenk (who was married to Natalie’s sister, actress Norma Talmadge).

Featuring a story by Jean C. Havez, Clyde Bruckman and Joseph A. Mitchell, the film would be loosely based on the Hatfield-McCoy Feud (1878-1891) in which two warring families would continue their fight against each other post-Civil War in which generations of McCoys and Hatfield’s would continue killing each other or hunting after each other, even at times where a McCoy would fall in love with a Hatfield.  In real life, more than a dozen family members of both families would be killed.

In the silent film, “Our Hospitality”, the war would be between the Canfields and the McKays.  The McKays live in a shack, while the Canfields are more affluent.  When Joseph Canfield (played by Joseph Roberts) to end the feud between both families, unfortunately one of the Canfield’s is deadset in killing a McKay.

Meanwhile, at the McKay home, Mrs. McKay takes care of her 1-year-old William and notices her husband getting his gun ready, as expecting a battle with the Canfield’s.  Mr. McKay goes out and both he and the other Canfield exchange shots and both end up killing each other.  For, Joseph Canfield… who once wanted to end the bloodshed, will now continue to support feud.

As for Mrs. McKay, she doesn’t want her son knowing about the family feud and so, she ships him off to live with his aunt in New York.

Fastforward many years later and William McKay (played by Buster Keaton) is now an adult.  His family receives a letter that William must go back to his father’s city to put his estate under his name.  For William, he can only dream that his father’s estate is a big mansion.  Prepared to travel to his father’s hometown, his aunt tells him about the family feud between the McKay and Canfield’s and still intends to go back to his father’s hometown.

As we see William about to ride a rickety locomotive back to his home, he is seated next to a beautiful woman.  And throughout the trip, the two manages to get close with one another.

Meanwhile, Joseph Canfield and his two older sons await for his daughter Virginia (played by Natalie Talmadge) to arrive by train.  Willie McKay is unaware that the woman that sat with him on the locomotive is Virginia… Canfield.

When Willie arrives in town, he goes to look for his father’s estate and runs into one of the sons of Joseph Canfield.  Joseph is shocked that a McKay has returned and as he pretends to show Willie to the estate, with each stop, he tries to get a pistol from a shopkeeper, so he can kill Willie.

But fortunately for Willie, he manages to escape harms way thanks to couple who are fighting each other.

When he Willie arrives to his father’s estate, he finds that it’s a rundown home and not a big mansion.  Not so thrilled, he prepares to return back home but manages to run into Virgina, the woman he met on the locomotive.  She invites him for dinner and William obliges.

As for the Canfield’s, Joseph Canfield realizes that Virginia is bringing back Willie McKay and this would be the perfect time to kill a McKay.  He and his sons concoct a plan to kill Willie after he arrives to the home.  Southern hospitality dictates that one can’t kill a guest, but once he leaves the home, they can.

When William arrives to the home, he hears the two Canfield son’s discussing how they will kill William and that they can’t kill him as long as he is inside their home.  But unbeknown to the guys, William has overheard their conversation and realizes that he is in the Canfield home.

Now William must find a way to stay alive and outwit the Canfield men.  Meanwhile, trying to establish a close relationship with Virginia.

VIDEO:

“Our Hospitality” is presented in 1080i and is B&W and color tinted (during the night sequences).  Using my original Kino DVD (from “The Art of Buster Keaton” DVD box set), “Our Hospitality” looks very good on Blu-ray considering the fact that this is a 1923 silent film.  This is probably the best we are going to see of this 88-year-old film as many silent films are damaged beyond repair, have major nitrate damage and excessive dust, especially when they were transferred to 35mm and were not properly restored.

With that being said, it’s understandable that you are not going to good perfect quality and it is expected that you will see white specks of dust and scratches throughout the film.  But I will say that the film looks much better than its DVD counterpart and you can see detail.  For one, you can see the fabric on the hats of the Canfield boys.  Before it just looked like a regular hat but now, you can tell its wool.  You can see detail in the period clothing and the blacks are nice and deep, the grays are consistent and rich and the whites look very good and the picture quality is not high in contrast.

I did not catch any combing or artifacting, so Keaton fans should be pleased with “Our Hospitality”, especially if you had previous copies on DVD.  It’s definitely worth the upgrade to Blu-ray!

As for “Hospitality”, the 49-minute cut has not been handled well and did suffer from extreme nitrate damage.  But the purpose of the inclusion of “Hospitality” was to show that another cut was made of the film, but while this film does not show newer footage compared to a film like “Sherlock Jr.”, the introduction to “Hospitality” will show that a lot of scenes were omitted from it but the big difference is that more of the footage can be seen in “Hospitality” at times compared to “Our Hospitality”.  It’s important to note that the picture quality is not so great with “Hospitality” when compared to the final cut but still, it’s great to have this version included on the Blu-ray release.

“Iron Mule”, a 1925 black and white short also looks pretty good considering its age.

AUDIO:

“Our Hospitality” comes with music composed and conducted by Carl Davis and performed by the Thames Silent Orchestra (presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or 2.0 LPCM Stereo). This soundtrack was recorded back in 1984 for Thames Television and is fantastic.   Also is featured is a musical score compiled by Donald Hunsberger (2.0  Stereo) which was included on the original KINO DVD and VHS release.  So, fans do have two choices to choose from.

Meanwhile, “Hospitality” (the older 49-minute cut) features an organ score by Lee Irwin.  As for, “Iron Mule”, the music is by Ben Model.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Our Hospitality.” comes with the following special features presented in 1080i:

  • Making Comedy Better – Featuring a documentary by Patricia Eliot Tobias with David B. Pearson on the making of “Our Hospitality”.
  • Hospitality – (55:23) Featuring a 49-minute alternate cut of “Our Hospitality” featuring an optional introduction by Patricia Eliot Tobias. Featuring an organ score by Lee Erwin.
  • The Iron Mule – (19:25) A short film from 1925 directed by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle which features the rickety locomotive from “Our Hospitality” being used for this short.   Featuring an organ score by Ben Model.
  • Gallery – Featuring 32 stills and 32 candid snapshots during the filming of “Our Hospitality”.  Using your remote, you can cycle through the various images.

EXTRAS:

“Our Hospitality” comes with a slipcase cover.

Before there was “The General”, there was “Our Hospitality”.  A film that would showcase Buster Keaton’s physical comedy but also would focus a hilarious (and possibly dangerous) showcase of a locomotive.

Whereas “The General” would feature a real train, I’m not sure what to even classify the rickety locomotive as it is not only slow (so, slow that Buster Keaton’s character, his dog, actually beats him to the location of where he is traveling to) but its prone to being separated from the engine car.

“Our Hospitality” is quite interesting as the first half of the story focuses on the journey on the locomotive, while the second half focuses on Keaton’s character, Willie McKay trying to survive from being killed by the Canfield’s.  It’s also interesting because it features three generations of the Keaton family in one film.  We have Buster, wife Natalie and you have his father Joe Keaton and also Buster’s infant son James Keaton who made his debut as Buster Keaton, Jr. on the credits.

The gags are quite hilarious and in many cases, as a viewer, you can only think of how it was created?  Fortunately, the Blu-ray does have a special feature on how those stunts were created using nifty camera work and project sets but I was pretty impressed with how much creativity went into this film, especially Keaton wanting to do all he can to recreate that era.

Similar to other Keaton films where he could have received severe injuries or even die from his daring stunts, there were two instances where Buster Keaton could have died.  The first is when Keaton falls on the train car and crashes through the river.  He had a wire on him at the time and the security writer broke loose and was only saved when he grabbed onto tree limbs that were passing by.  Keaton suffered many contusions and scrapes on the rocks that he hit over the river and what you see on film, was the actual scene.  So, not only did it look real, it really happened and he spent weeks recovering from this injuries.

The other scene that could have proven fatal was the scene when Keaton is hanging from a tree limb over the edge of the waterfall and has to swing and grab Talmadge (the stuntman dressed like Talmadge).  Keaton inhaled so much water while swinging that he actually lost consciousness during that scene.

So, there were a lot of risks throughout the film but outside of those challenging scenes, for me, it was the scenes that provided a historic look of clothing and items that were used during that time period which production was fortunate to have for “Our Hospitality”.

Scenes that standout are an older bicycle which has no pedals but is started by it’s lever (the handle bars) and no footrests.  Another standout is the locomotive as it pulls carts but even more interesting is its speed and how easy it was for people to move and adjust tracks.  Granted, I don’t know if that was possible back in the 1800’s but if so, I could only wonder how many accidents were created by those pulling pranks by adjusting and messing around with those tracks.

But while the first half is dominated by gags due to the locomotive, it’s the second half where we see those early signs of Buster Keaton willing to throw his life in danger by taking on high risk stunts.  Yes, he ups the ante later on in “The General” and “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” but for “Our Hospitality”, you get an early glimpse of the potential of Keaton as an actor, displaying his physical comedy as he is floating near a waterfall.  Granted, everything was carefully planned but considering how safety practices were not fully enforced at that time and that Keaton did most of his stunts, he is absolutely magnificent in “Our Hospitality” and gets even better as his films progress onward.

As for the Blu-ray release, as mentioned earlier, this is a definitely improvement over its original DVD counterpart from Kino.  The picture quality is very good and although in 1080i and not 1080p, fans should be satisfied of how good this film looks over the DVD.

Also, the special features with the inclusion of the making-of, the inclusion of “Hospitality”,  the 49-minute alternative cut and also the inclusion of “The Iron Mule”, a 1925 short which people can see the locomotive used once again (and damaging it even more and possibly putting it out of commission), is a pretty awesome offering on this Blu-ray release and should entice fans but also those who own the original DVD release, to upgrade to this title.

Overall, as Kino International has done with the previous Buster Keaton releases on Blu-ray, “Our Hospitality” is another wonderful release that has more special features but looks and sounds great via HD.  While I still enjoy “The General” and “Steamboat Bill Jr.” much more because of Keaton’s riskier stuntwork, “Our Hospitality” is fun, entertaining and hilarious.  It’s also one of his most accessible films next to “The General” as it has been available on VHS and DVD for a long time and now in its best presentation ever… on Blu-ray.

If you are a silent film fan or a Buster Keaton fan, I highly recommend “Our Hospitality” on Blu-ray!  Definitely recommended!

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