August 20, 2019
Battling Butler (1926)
Grade: 62/100

Director: Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Snitz Edwards, Sally O'Neil

What it's about. A silent-era comedy feature. Alfred Butler (Buster Keaton) is the young adult son of very wealthy parents. Alfred has low energy, so his father sends him off alone into a distant and remote forested area to hunt for game, accompanied only by his loyal valet (Snitz Edwards). The idea is that Alfred's vitality will be restored in the woods.

Alfred fails at hunting and fishing but, because it is a movie, promptly encounters a cute tomboy (Sally O'Neil). Within a day, he just has to marry her. The problem is, she has a brother (Budd Fine) and father (Walter James), both hulking men, who consider Alfred to be too much of a wussy to win her hand. Money can't buy love after all.

Because it is a movie, Alfred's valet discovers a newspaper article about a lightweight boxer also named Alfred Butler, who has a championship fight within days. Because it is a movie, the valet manages to convince the tomboy's kin that her Alfred is that Alfred.

The marriage is on, but the downside is that it becomes increasingly more difficult for Albert to keep us his ruse. Soon he trespasses in fighter Butler's training camp, and shadows his workouts, to fool his trusting new wife.

The boxer Alfred (Francis McDonald) tires of this, particularly since the boxer's wife flirts with every man she meets, including the other Alfred. Boxer Alfred decides to get revenge by leaving camp, and turning gentry Alfred over to his trainer (Tom Wilson) and manager (Eddie Borden) to face boxer Alfred's next opponent, Alabama Murderer.

The film was based on a long-running Broadway play, written by Stanley Brightman and Austin Melford.

How I felt about it. Buster Keaton had a fifty-year film career, and worked steadily during that time except for the lean years of 1947 and 1948. But his fame and earnings waxed and waned dramatically. Aided by a dedicated wife, his career was actually on an upside between 1949 and his 1966 death. But his glory period is regarded as 1923 to 1928, when he made a series of highly regarded silent features with co-producer Joseph M. Schenck.

The best among those are The General (1926) and Sherlock, Jr. (1924), but all are beloved by his admirers, and have been restored in excellent quality for their era.

Keaton was a master of pratfalls, gags, and stunts. He was known as "The Great Stone Face" since his screen character never smiled. There was usually a pretty young woman he needed to impress, and he was certain to win her by the final reel, against all odds.

Battling Butler is a typical entry, better than some and not as good as others. Many gags work, and if you don't laugh at some of them, you're not paying attention. But the story is implausible, principally because the lead's family appears so wealthy that the tomboy would presumably be eager to marry him, with or without a boxing career.

As in College, Keaton plays a milquetoast who must prove he is a man through athletics to secure the interest of his sweetheart. Naturally, he must endure endless humiliations at the hands of more experienced opponents. Inevitably, though, a dubious David-slays-Goliath ending is in store to redeem our hero and satisfy the audience's desire for a happy ending.

How others will see it. Today at, Battling Butler has 2400 user votes. While this total seems small compared with, for example, the latest Marvel Avengers movie, it is large for a silent-era feature. The user rating of 7.1 is good but not great. The user reviews generally gush with praise for Keaton, though most rank it below his best, e.g. "Not Keaton's funniest film, nevertheless a consistently good one."