THE PLAYHOUSE/SHERLOCK JR.

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 10, 2015

Buster Keaton was a movie genius during the silent era, and though many place him second to Charlie Chaplin, to many of us, Keaton is No. 1.

The two Keaton films slated for the latest Organ Loft program, to show tonight (Friday, April 10) at 7:30 with live organ accompaniment, are in some ways atypical of his work.

Keaton was a master of slapstick, holding that stone face of his while taking all kinds of clever pratfalls and initiating all kinds of wild chases, all of which he would meticulously choreograph for the camera. And, of course, he did all his own stunts.

            

But for “The Playhouse” (1922) and “Sherlock Jr.” (1924), Keaton relied on innovative special effects as much as his penchant for staging controlled chaos.

And considering how early these films were released, the effects hold up amazingly well, and the films are comedy paradise.

“The Playhouse” stars Keaton as a patron at a stage production, then the star(s) of the production itself (as many as nine characters at once), and then shifts into a story about Keaton falling in love with one of a set of twins, and having trouble telling them apart.

      

        Buster Keaton, left, Buster Keaton and Buster Keaton, 'The Playhouse'

But the real ace in the hole here is “Sherlock Jr.,” which anticipates Woody Allen’s 1985 fantasy “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” and influenced countless others.

The plot has Keaton as a movie-theater projectionist/janitor that is framed for theft by his romantic rival. Back at the theater, he falls asleep and imagines himself inside the movie on the screen.

This offers plenty of opportunities for Keaton to blend movie magic with his singular brand of comedy as he walks into the movie screen and becomes part of the action being projected.

His staging is beautifully managed for a seamless string of film-within-a-film sequences, and the result is one of his best pieces of work.

If you’re looking for some chuckles, forget the so-called comedies playing in movie theaters locally this weekend and head to the Organ Loft.

You are guaranteed to laugh yourself silly.