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Silent Sunday Nights - January 2013
Remind Me

The Scarecrow (1920)

Late in 1919, producer Joseph M. Schenck, who had produced many films featuring Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton (and who would later become a co-founder of 20th Century Fox), set up a new company to produce a series of silent comedy shorts starring Keaton. Schenck made sure that Keaton had complete creative freedom, relieving his star of business worries so he could concentrate solely on making films with his creative team: co-director Edward F. Cline, technical director Fred Gabourie and head cameraman Elgin Lessley. The first eight of these two-reeler shorts, including The Scarecrow (1920), were released through Metro; eleven more would be released through First National. During this period, thanks in large part to his feature film The Saphead (1920), filmed just before The Scarecrow, Keaton emerged as a major star.

The Scarecrow and Keaton's other shorts of the time are considered to represent a high point of inventiveness and comic brilliance in his career. The Scarecrow, set on a farm, opens with a classic Keaton bit. Buster and fellow farmhand Joe Roberts (a boyhood friend from Michigan who takes on the Arbuckle role from the old relationship) prepare breakfast in their one-room house filled with Rube Goldberg-type devices. The phonograph doubles as a stove, the bookcase becomes the icebox, and the bed transforms into a piano. A plaque on the wall serves as a tabletop complete with plates. A series of strings dangling from the ceiling are attached to condiments that the two men swing back and forth to each other. These devices were based on ones Keaton had built as a boy at his family's summer home on Lake Muskegon, Michigan.

Both Buster and Joe are in love with the farmer's daughter (Sybil Seely), but the farmer (Joe Keaton, Buster's father) disapproves of both of them. Buster is chased by a supposedly mad dog (Fatty Arbuckle's Straffordshire Bull Terrier, Luke) and has his clothes torn off by a hay-processing machine. Borrowing a scarecrow's clothes, he manages to win the daughter's hand and elope with her on a motorcycle -- with the parson as an extra passenger!

Keaton is the only actor in The Scarecrow to receive screen credit. Among those showing up in uncredited bits are director Cline and a 14-year-old Mary Astor.

Producer: Joseph M. Schenck
Directors: Eddie Cline, Buster Keaton
Screenplay: Eddie Cline, Buster Keaton
Cinematography: Elgin Lessley (uncredited)
Original Music: Robert Israel (composer and arranger, 1995 edition)
Technical Director: Fred Gabourie (uncredited)
Principal Cast: Buster Keaton (Farmhand), Joe Roberts (Farmhand, uncredited), Sybil Seely (Farmer's Daughter, uncredited), Joe Keaton (Farmer, uncredited), Edward F. Cline (Hit-and-run Truck Driver, uncredited).

by Roger Fristoe

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