Screened as part of NZIFF 2004

Steamboat Bill, Jr. 1928

Directed by Charles F. Reisner

71 minutes 35mm

Production co

Buster Keaton Productions


Joseph M. Schenck


Carl Harbaugh


Bert Haines
J. Devereaux Jennings


Sherman Kell


Buster Keaton (Steamboat Bill, Jr)
Ernest Torrence (Steamboat Bill)
Tom Lewis (Tom Carter)
Tom McGuire (John James King)
Marion Brown (Mary King)


“One of the least known of the Buster Keaton features, yet it possibly ranks right at the top. It is certainly the most bizarrely Freudian of his adventures, dealing with a tiny son’s attempt to prove himself to his huge, burly, rejecting father. Ernest Torrence is the father – a tough Mississippi-steamboat captain, who does not conceal his disgust when Junior (Keaton) arrives to join him, nattily dressed in bell-bottoms, a polka-dot tie and a beret. When the father is in jail, Keaton tries to hand him a gigantic loaf of bread containing tools for breaking out, but the father doesn’t understand what’s in it and refuses the bread; Keaton mutters ‘My father is ashamed of my baking.’ The film features a memorable comic cyclone, and a peerless (and much imitated) sequence in which Keaton tries on hats.” — Pauline Kael 

“Keaton – the most realistic and logical of comedians – has nevertheless a strong element of surreal about him. But nowhere… is there such a strong sense of nightmare as in the apocalyptic climax of Steamboat Bill, Jr. Keaton’s sudden and utter solitude is just as in a dream. After the first shots of people and cars being blown away no other soul is to be seen in the town as it suffers destruction. While Keaton leans forward at an angle of sixty degrees from the vertical to face the wind, and tries to walk, his efforts like walking in a dream, only take him further away from his goal… The dream continues to the end: nothing could be more dreamlike than the way the people of his life come floating along the river, on their personal ruins.” — David Robinson, Keaton 

“The last part of the film is unforgettable. It eclipses for sheer panache anything he ever did.” — Kevin Brownlow, The Parade’s Gone By… 

Preceded by One Week. The first of the great Keaton shorts features the first appearance of the great falling-down house gag. USA/1920/20 mins