Sherlock Jr. and Three Ages (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
November 6, 2010 by Dennis Amith
Another fantastic Buster Keaton on Blu-ray release from KINO! “Sherlock Jr.” and “Three Ages” are Keaton’s earlier feature films that showcase his physical comedy, amazing creativity and imagination with his use of special effects (that were ahead of its time) in his films. If you are a Buster Keaton fan, this Blu-ray release is fantastic and the definitive version to own of both films!
TITLE: Sherlock Jr. and Three Ages
FILM RELEASE: 1924 & 1923
DURATION: 45 and 63 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: B&W, 1080p & 1080i High Definition, “Sherlock Jr.” comes with music by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra in 2.0 stereo & DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, music by Club Foot Orchestra 2.0, Vintage Jazz score by Jay Ward. “Three Ages” comes with music by Robert Israel in 2.0 stereo, organ score by Lee Erwin and a piano score.
COMPANY: Kino International
Release Date: November 16, 2010
Directed by Buster Keaton
Story by Jean C. Havez, Joseph A. Mitchell, Clyde Bruckman
Music by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra/Club Foot Orchestra/Jay Ward
Cinematography by Byron Houck, Elgin Lessley
Art Direction by Fred Gabourie
Directed Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Story and Titles by Clyde Bruckman, Joseph A. Mitchell, Jean C. Havez
Music by Robert Israel, Lee Ewrwin
Cinematography by Elgin Lessley, William C. McGann
Art Direction by Fred Gabourie
“Sherlock Jr.” Starring:
Buster Keaton as Projectionist/Sherlock Jr.
Kathryn McGuire as the Girl
Joe Keaton as The Girl’s Father
Erwin Connelly as The Hired Man/The butler
Ward Crane as The Local Sheik/The Villain
“Three Ages” starring:
Buster Keaton as The Boy
Margaret Leahy as The Girl
Wallace Beery as The Villain
Joe Roberts as The Girl’s Father
Lillian Lawrence as The Girl’s Mother
Blanche Payson as The Amazon
Kewpie Morgan as The Emperor/Cave Man and Roman Thug
Widely regarded as one of the most visually inventive silent comedies ever made, SHERLOCK JR. offers fast-paced slapstick as well as a brilliant deconstruction of the filmmaking process. Keaton stars as a movie theatre projectionist who dreams of becoming a super-sleuth and, in one breathtaking sequence, literally steps into the screen to bring his fantasies to life.
Another comedy for film-lovers (that plays upon the conventions of cinema), THREE AGES is a clever spoof of D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance. In Keaton’s multi-narrative epic, man’s primal quest for love is played out in the Stone Age, Ancient Rome, and the Jazz Age.
The films in this collection have been mastered in HD from archival 35mm elements, authorized by the Buster Keaton Estate.
When we think about Buster Keaton, we think of one of the kings of slapstick comedy during the silent era. The master of physical comedy, a talent known for his deadpan expression and his films, well-revered today as one of the best actors and directors of all time and beloved by many.
With the release of two fantastic Buster Keaton films (“The General” and “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” on Blu-ray), with about ten more feature films of Buster Keaton still awaiting for their HD release, KINO International has released two more: “Sherlock Jr.” (1924) and “Three Ages” (1923) on one Blu-ray disc.
“Sherlock Jr.” has an interesting story behind it. From a creative standpoint, the film utilized plenty of special effects for its time. Using double exposure, matting and lighting, Buster Keaton created a technologically impressive film back in 1924. Unfortunately, for movie viewers at that time, many were more focused on the comedy than the film’s technical achievement and it became the lowest earning Buster Keaton film ever in the box office.
Like many of Buster Keaton’s work, it’s not until decades later did today’s viewers know how impressive his films were. How not only was he an expert at deadpan, physical comedy but how “Sherlock Jr.” was a much better film that was probably way ahead of its time.
In 1991, “Sherlock Jr.” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “Culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. The American Film Institute had ranked the film as #62 for its’ “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs” ranking. The film has also been a cult favorite which has led many fans to seek out and visit the various locations throughout the Los Angeles area where the film was shot.
In “Sherlock Jr.”, Buster Keaton plays the role of a projectionist at a movie theater who is studying to become a detective. The projectionist doesn’t really like his job and sometimes studying and not working that he gets a talking from his boss who refers him as “Sherlock Jr.”. Despite not liking his job, the projectionist needs the money and hopes he can buy the girl that he likes (played by Kathryn McGuire) a special gift.
While the projectionist worked hard to buy her a special gift (which cost him $4, which was around $47 during 1923), when he presents it to her, all things seem to go quite well. That is until the villain makes his appearance at her home. He steals the watch which belongs to the girl’s father and hawks it for $4.
Meanwhile, when the villain arrives, he immediately starts trying to take the attention of the girl away from the projectionist and succeeds. Meanwhile, her father (played by Joe Keaton) and the butler (played by Erwin Connelly) come in and immediately the father rants about his watch being gone or stolen. The projectionist then looks at his detective books to see what he would do next and that is to check everyone to see if they have the watch on them.
Unfortunately, right behind him reading the book is the villain who quickly puts the receipt from the pawn shop in the projectionist’s pocket and thus when he is checked, the pawned watch for $4 equaled the price of the gift he bought for the girl. The father tells the projectionist that he is no longer welcomed at his home and the girl, his love, wants nothing to do with him.
While back at work and showing another film in the theater, the projectionist starts to dream while watching a silent film titled “Hearts and Pearls”. The characters start to change as it becomes the girl of his dreams and the villain. And immediately, the projectionist goes towards the theater and jumps on screen in order to get the girl back.
In 1923, Buster Keaton would team up with comedian Wallace Beery and would work on the feature film “Three Ages”. The film is significant in the fact that it was Keaton’s first film that he wrote, directed, produced and starred in.
The film is a satire of D.W. Griffith’s 1916 film “Intolerance” in which Keaton tells the story of love triangles during “The Stone Age”, “Rome in All Her Glory” and “The Present Age”. In these three ages, Keaton plays the guy who is trying to woo the girl (played by Margaret Leahy) but is always blocked by his rival played by Wallace Beery.
Because the film was Keaton’s first feature-length film (prior to this film, Keaton was known primarily for two-reel shorts), he created the stories so they can be three separate short stories if doing a feature-film would be too risky for him to attempt, since he was an unproven feature film star at that time.
We get to see Keaton as a caveman during the prehistoric era, a Roman during in ancient Rome and in the present age (the Roaring Twenties), and basically a guy just trying to win the girl away from his rival. The story goes back and forth to other stories trying to show the boy (Keaton) having to fail multiple times before achieving success. With plenty of gags and impressive physical comedy, Keaton’s first major effort in a feature film would definitely show that this actor had feature film box office appeal.
“Sherlock Jr.” and “Three Ages” are presented in 1080p High Definition, black and white. I have had the opportunity to compare both films to their original KINO DVD release and suffice to say, the Blu-ray versions look much, much better than the DVD counterparts.
With “Sherlock Jr.”, I did notice a few scenes in which the contrast seemed a bit high but for the most part, the film looks very good considering it’s an 86-year-old film. The picture quality of the film is not as clearer as “The General” or “Steamboat Bill Jr.” but that is due to the original film elements and it does have its share of scratches and dust. But for the most part, the film does look a lot better on Blu-ray.
For “Three Ages”, the film is presented in 1080i High Definition. The film is quite interesting because the original film’s elements as seen on the original DVD had slight film warping and a little damage. But on Blu-ray, the film does appear to look much better than its DVD counter part in that it looks a bit cleaned up, the blacks were much deeper and there is much more clarity compared to its DVD counterpart.
But the “Three Ages” is one of those films that will be quite interesting to see how the masses not familiar with silent film will react to it. As a fan of silent films, I have watched so many films with so much deterioration and the fact that the majority of silent films are destroyed, damaged or lost, when you have opportunities to see an entire film, even with slight damage, suffice to say, you’re quite fortunate. KINO has always provided fans of silent cinema a way to watch these classic films, even if they have slight warping due to the nitrate decomposition and personally, I have never been critical of this because I’m supportive of silent films being released and grateful when they are.
So, it’s important for those who have been treated with excellent presentation of “Battleship Potemkin”, “The General” and “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” from KINO, to know that not all silent films are going to look nearly pristine. If you find those few that are, that’s great. But you will run into films that have slight damage and for “Three Ages”, it does have slight damage and may not look the best but yet, I do emphasize that it is better than its DVD counterpart, easily watchable and the decomposition of the negative was very slight.
I’m grateful for KINO in releasing both Keaton films on HD and easily the Blu-ray is the definitive release of these two films by far.
As for audio, when it comes to Blu-ray releases, there is one thing that I expect from silent film on Blu-ray and that is multiple soundtracks. And I’m so happy that KINO now has provided us with multiple soundtracks for this release.
“Sherlock Jr.” comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack for “Sherlock Jr.” and is also presented in 2.0 stereo as well. The original Club Foot Orchestra that was featured in the prior DVD release is included as well in 2.0 stereo and possibly a big surprise was to hear the vintage jazz score compiled by Jay Ward. Although not the best in quality compared to the other two tracks, the fact that we get a vintage jazz score is fantastic!
For “Three Ages”, we get music which was directed and arranged by Robert Israel in 2.0 stereo, as well as an organ score by Lee Irwin and an anonymous piano score.
“Sherlock Jr.” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Audio commentary by film historian David Kalat.
- Tour of Filming Locations – (9:57) Author of “Silent Echoes”, John Bengston shows us the locations of where “Sherlock Jr.” was shot and how those locations look like today.
- Movie Magic & Mysteries – (22:38) A short documentary on the making of “Sherlock Jr.”, how the special effects were done for the film and also looking into the rumor that Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle had a hand in directing the film.
“Three Ages” comes with the following special featuers:
- Tour of Filming Locations – (7:58) Author of “Silent Echoes”, John Bengston shows us the locations of where “Three Ages” was shot and how those locations look like today.
- “Man’s Genesis” – (9:10) An excerpt from D.W. Griffith’s 1912 short presented in HD.
- Three (Separate) Ages – A speculative re-edit of the film by separating “The Stone Age”, “Rome in All Her Glory” and “The Present Age” as three shorts and featuring a musical score by Lee Irwin.
“Sherlock Jr.” comes with a slipcase.
Buster Keaton was a master at physical comedy and both “Sherlock Jr.” and “Three Ages” were films that were representative of what he was able to accomplish.
These early Keaton feature-length films, although not too successful at the box office during that time had caught our attention because we realize how much of a master of physical comedy Buster Keaton was. Way before we started thinking Jackie Chan was crazy with his stunts, stunts that would literally hurt him… Keaton was doing these stunts and literally getting injured himself.
In “Sherlock Jr.”, we see a train scene in which he gets pounded on the pavement by the water falling from the water tower, he didn’t know at the time but x-rays would show that he broke his neck filming that scene. In both “Sherlock Jr.” and “Three Ages”, we see Keaton not only pulling off gags and risky stunts, his mind was thinking about accomplish major feats through cinema by special effects. Using double exposure to full effect, matting and effective lighting, you can’t help but marvel of what he and his crew were able to accomplish.
Granted, “The General” and “Steamboat Bill Jr.” were much more effective (and more costly) than these two films but to see Keaton really trying to pull off impressive stunts to trying to include special effects in his film, not only was he the ultimate daredevil of silent cinema, he was a forward thinker of the use of cinema technology in his films. He literally had a good grasp at what he wanted to pull off and unfortunately, at that time, people watched movies differently and were not pulled in by those effects, moreso for the gags and comedy.
As for the Blu-ray release, I’m so happy that KINO is releasing each of Keaton’s feature length films on Blu-ray and the fact that we get two feature films on one release is fantastic. Picture quality is much better than its previous DVD counterpart and the fact that we get choices of alternate soundtracks is fantastic. Especially the inclusion of the vintage soundtrack was a surprise! Also, I am quite pleased with the John Bengston special features and the making of, so I’m happy that KINO did include special features on this Blu-ray release.
Overall, “Sherlock Jr.” is quite impressive when you watch it and see what was accomplished by Keaton. I am still quite impressed to watch the movie within a movie segments because they are amazing considering what was accomplished in this film back in 1924 and for the life of me, I’m still baffled on how it could be lowest money making film done by Keaton (but then again, other masterpieces such as Murnau’s “Sunrise” and Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” were also box office bombs). “Three Ages” was a funny film with a lot of gags but and in my opinion, the addition of this film to this Blu-ray release is a welcome bonus.
As for both films and in comparison to the previous two released on Blu-ray, it’s pretty much apples and oranges as “The General” was impressive in story and physical comedy, “Steamboat, Bill Jr.” was impressive in physical comedy and these two films, are more of Keatons’ earlier films and literally the spark that helped ignite the fire for him to go on and create his more successful films. But just watching these two films, not only is it imaginative but everything is well-planned, well-executed and to us, it may look quite simple onscreen but as seen on the special features, there was a lot of imagination and creativity involved.
But I do like how KINO, similar to what they did with the original DVD release, are including the two films in this release and also are including multiple soundtracks and special features (which the original DVD’s did not have). So, quite frankly, I love my “Art of Buster Keaton” DVD box set (available now from KINO) and the DVD’s that came with it. But quite simply, the fact that these films look so much better and come with much more on Blu-ray, these are the definitive versions of the film to own a this time.
If you are a fan of Buster Keaton, this is another fantastic release from KINO and is definitely recommended!
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