Brow Beat

Buster Keaton Died 50 Years Ago Monday. Here’s His Hilarious First Solo Film.

Silent film star Buster Keaton died on February 1, 1966, 50 years ago Monday. Although his career had a long, alcoholism-fueled twilight, in the 1920s he redefined film comedy. Most of his work is still under copyright—Kino’s box set is definitive—but his earliest films have entered the public domain. So what better way to spend 22 minutes on a Sunday afternoon than with One Week, Keaton’s first-released solo film after an apprenticeship as Fatty Arbuckle’s second banana. The film pits newlyweds Keaton and Sybil Seely against a Craftsman-style kit home, which they utterly fail to assemble correctly. Keaton’s best qualities are on display here, from his daredevil stunt work—he was seriously injured during the filming—to the ingenious, carefully engineered visual gags. It’s worth watching just for a look at the house itself, a masterpiece of cockeyed set design with hardly any right angles. Not only does it stand (while looking as though it should collapse at any moment), the entire building was constructed to spin at high speed during a spectacular tornado sequence. But the moment Keaton announced his arrival as a major talent is One Week’s ending, which has the best final gag of any film he ever made—which is to say of any comedy, period.