Classic of the Week: Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)

Steamboat Bill Jr. is a 1928 silent comedy film starring Buster Keaton and directed by Charles Reisner. The film is known for what may be Keaton’s most famous film stunt: The exterior of a whole house falls around him while he stands in the ideal spot to pass through the open attic window instead of being crushed. The film inspired Disney’s Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse’s 128 film debut.

The film follows William “Steamoat Bill” Canfield, who is the owner and captain of a paddle steamer that has seen better days. He impatiently awaits for his college student son to arrive, whom he hasn’t since the boy was a baby. Expecting a big man like himself to help him compete with businessman John James King and his brand new, expensive riverboat, William is sorely disappointed with his awkward son, who arrives with a beret, a pencil mustache and a ukulele. He gets enraged when he finds out that his son and King’s daughter Kitty, also visiting her father, are in love. Both business opponents are determined to break up the relationship.

When Canfield’s ship is said to be unsafe, he accuses King of plotting it. He beats him up and is put in jail. His son tries to set him free by bringing him a loaf of bread with tools hidden inside, but his plan is dicovered. The sheriff hits the son on the head, sending him to the hospital. A cyclone then hits, tearing down buildings and jeopardizing this ships. As Canfield Jr. is making his way through town, a build front falls around him.

Although this film was a box office failure and received mixed reviews upon its release, it has since gone down as one of Keaton’s best movies and one of the greatest films of all time. It has many laugh out moments, lots of slapstick and special effects that were ahead of its time and still impress to this day. It has romance, drama and a few heartwarming and instense scenes.

This iconic film has inspired so many movies and televisions shows, especially the house falling scene. This is a movie with a simple plot and that was so brilliantly executed in every way, I don’t understand how this did so poorly in theaters and had such mediocre reviews. It is a wonderful, fun-filled and very entertaining film from begining to end. There is not one dull moment and it is Keaton at his best.

There is no nudity, no profanity (of course) and no drinking or smoking. There is slapstick violence. The father’s rejection of his vain son and the cyclone scene may be disturbing to some children, but other than that this is a pretty family friendly film. This is one movie that can be watched over and over again. This film has definitely stood the test of time. Truly a masterpiece that will continue to entertain and inspire. 7+ 5/5