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Silent Sunday Nights - April 2013
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Remind Me

The Paleface (1922)

In their thirst for oil the white men have seized the land of a Native American tribe. With one day left before they must vacate, the tribe comes to a decision. They have been burned for the last time! The Chief declares, now it is the white man's turn. The next one they see will be burned at the stake! And who is the next white man to wander onto the reservation? Introducing Buster Keaton, butterfly collector.

The Paleface (1922) is one of Keaton's great two-reeler shorts, made just before his classic Cops (1922) and his launch into feature films. Keaton was at the peak of his comic powers here and the inventiveness never stops through all the surprising twists and turns. It all culminates in a plunge from a seventy-five-foot suspension bridge.

Harold Lloyd was better known during the silent era for his vertigo-inducing stunts but Keaton was the one who took greater risks making his movies. Shooting from the rope suspension bridge in the Santa Susana Mountains, Keaton had set up to land in a net out of camera range. However, a technician made a test jump and ended up breaking his shoulder and leg. Naturally, Keaton was nervous but he made the jump anyway because "I didn't want to show yellow before my own gang." This time it turned out better as Buster, who was more experienced in taking falls from his vaudeville days, hit the net perfectly.

The Paleface is one of many comedies from the period that set a bumbler in the old west, and Keaton would return to it himself with the feature Go West (1925), but this short is more than a warm-up, it's a classic in its own right.

Writers/directors: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline
Producer: Joseph M. Schenck
Cinematographer: Elgin Lessley
Cast: Buster Keaton (Little Chief Paleface), Joe Roberts (The Chief), Virginia Fox (Indian maid).
BW-33m.

by Brian Cady
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