Saturday, September 11, 2021

#2,614. The Saphead (1920)


Notable today for being Buster Keaton’s first feature-length film, The Saphead - even at 77 minutes - seems to drag on incessantly.

Part of the problem is the story, which is about as exciting as watching paint dry; Nicholas Van Alstyne (William H. Crane) has made a killing on Wall Street, and is none too happy that his philandering son Bertie (Keaton) is only interested in spending the money he makes.

Hoping to teach Bertie a lesson, Van Alstyne kicks him out of the house and refuses to allow him to marry Agnes (Beulah Booker), the love of Bertie’s life.

But when Van Alstyne’s unscrupulous son-in-law Mark Turner (Irving Cummings) tries to steal his millions out from under him, Bertie’s ignorance of the stock market’s inner workings may be the only thing that can save the family fortune!

Keaton is predictably excellent as the not-too-bright Bertie, and the scenes in which he’s featured are easily the best (especially the big finale, where Bertie darts around the exchange, tackling brokers and inadvertently buying up stock).

Unfortunately, The Saphead contains far too many scenes without Keaton, none of which are memorable, and the film’s main plotline – Van Alstyne’s purchase of stock in the Henrietta Mining Company and his son-in-law’s attempt to snatch it away - is as dull as they come.

Keaton completists will enjoy seeing the master in an early role, but everyone else would be better served watching The General instead.
Rating: 5 out of 10

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