The Buster Keaton Story, biographical film, biography, review, biopic

The Buster Keaton Story (1957)

Mildly entertaining biopic about the life of Buster Keaton, from his childhood on vaudeville to his rise and fall as a silent screen star, focusing on his battle with alcoholism and financial ruin. Apart from these bare bones, the rest of movie is pure fiction.

 

Which is a pity, because the real Buster Keaton story has so much to offer. Instead, this biopic serves up fictional characters, amalgamates others, and omits other significant characters entirely. Yet the biopic’s best moments occur when it stays close to reality, particularly in its recreations of scenes from Keaton’s movies.

 

Here Donald O’Connor excels. Though he may not successfully convey the deadpan humour of Keaton, he goes close to matching the master with his acrobatic prowess. Some of these scenes are credited to their correct film, others are credited to fictional movies, while Spite Marriage is performed as a vaudeville act. Whichever device is used, they are are welcome relief from the dreariness that surrounds them.

 

In a movie replete with Hollywood cliches, none is more overworked than the plot being advanced by a newspaper headline. Amongst some of those featured are 'MOVIES KILL VAUDEVILLE' and SILENT STARS FALL BY THE WAYSIDE' . This last headline could also apply to Donald O'Connor, for after the biopic's release this multi-talented performer's film career was confined mainly to supporting roles.

cast, Donald O'Connor, Buster Keaton
Donald O'Connor
Donald O'Connor

as Buster Keaton

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Buster did not gate-crash a movie studio and become an instant hit. He gave up a good paying vaudeville gig to take on a $40 a week job as Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle's co-star. It took another three years before Buster became a leading actor.

 

Buster Keaton was married three times. Biopic depicts him married once.

 

Buster became a father while he was at the peak of his film career, not at the end as depcited in the biopic.

 

Decline of Buster's career was not due to the advent of talkies but rather his loss of independence.

 

One of the more infamous falsehoods attributed to this biopic is itself untrue. 'Son of Golden Turkey Awards' states that this biopic includes a scene where Buster as a child witnesses his father's death while performing in a circus. The book goes onto state that Buster never performed in a circus and that he was an adult when his father died.  The Buster Keaton Story contains no such scene.

 

"The Three Keatons" are rightfully portrayed as a vaudeville act (though they were headliners, not bottom-of-the-bill as depicted in the movie). Also, upon becoming a movie star, Keaton talks about buying a place for his parents to retire, but receives a letter from his father rejecting the offer.

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Buster Keaton served as Technical Adviser on this biopic, and though the filmmakers didn't use his input for the story, his help proved invaluable in recreating scenes from such films as The Frozen North, The Boat, The Balloonatic, The Navigator, The Goat, Sherlock Jr, Spite Marriage and Cops. Buster even added new elements to some of the scenes.

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