Buster Keaton R. E. Sherwood - Essay

R. E. Sherwood

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In one of his earlier comedies, "The Paleface," Buster Keaton captured a quality of wistfulness that marked him as one apart from the ordinary run of movie gag-grabbers. It is this same quality that has made Chaplin great.

Keaton returns to the mood of "The Paleface" in "Go West"—a comedy which, when viewed analytically, is in fact a soul-stirring tragedy. It is the story of a boy, known on the program as "Friendless," who is kicked about from pillar to post—from New York, N.Y., to Needles, California—until he finally finds a startling treasure of human warmth and sympathy in the person of a brown-eyed cow. For this cow he conceives a devastating affection, and his loyal heart is shattered when an inexorable ranch-owner compels him to lead his bovine girl friend to the slaughterhouse.

A [James Matthew] Barrie, a [Ferenc] Molnar, or a [George Bernard] Shaw could not have conceived a romance like that. It is the utterly mad but oddly significant sort of story that could flourish only on the screen.

Buster Keaton plays it with his usual dead pan, and with occasional sidesteps into the realms of ridiculousness. In these moments he is terribly funny, but for the major part of the picture, he is inexpressibly sad.

Toward the end, a herd of cattle breaks loose in a city street—and here, unfortunately, Buster Keaton loses control. The cows refuse to do their bit toward the development of screen art, and the story ends lamely.

But "Go West" is a good picture—the best, I think, that Keaton has done since "Our Hospitality."

R. E. Sherwood, "The Silent Drama: 'Go West'," in Life, Vol. 86, No. 2246, November 19, 1925, p. 26.