The Boat (1921)
Directed by Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline

Artistic Value: * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * *

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Having built a boat in his basement and demolished his house in order to get it out, the unnamed protagonist (Buster Keaton) heads to the sea to take his family sailing. Unfortunately, the boat sinks as soon as it is placed in the water. Undeterred, the hero builds another and this time succeeds in getting it to float. His luck, however, quickly runs out and he encounters a variety of problems, including an unnoted bridge that is not tall enough for his mast to pass under it, leaks caused by his driving a nail into the boat's hull, and a storm which threatens to sink the craft.

Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline's The Boat has all the energy of a children's cartoon and is just as filled with silly situations, ridiculous physical stunts, and the like. In fact, the movie, while rarely truly uproarious, is so frenetic that it is genuinely enjoyable.

What is more, there are a couple of sequences in the film that are actually funny. At one point, for example, while the boat spins round and round in the water, repeatedly capsizing and righting itself, Keaton runs around its interior like a hamster in his wheel. The sight of him doing so really is hilarious. In addition to this scene, there are a couple of other moments in the film that are also humorous, as when, thinking that he and his family are doomed after their boat has sunk, the protagonist prepares to die, only to realize that they have drifted into water that is only a few feet deep. While neither these nor any of the film's other sequences are particularly clever, most are amusing and a few are able to make the viewer laugh. The Boat is, consequently, a pleasure to watch.

Nevertheless, if the moviegoer is determined to approach the film as though it were a cinematic classic simply because it was made by Keaton, believing that, for this reason, it must have been realized with some remarkable aesthetic sensitivity, he will either be greatly disappointed by the goofy, slapstick routines with which he is actually presented or will be forced to pretend that these have merits which they actually lack. Happily, that viewer who can rid himself of such foolish preconceptions and approach the film for what it is, silly, lowbrow fun, is very likely to enjoy The Boat. The movie is certainly not a work of art, but it is entertaining.

Review by Keith Allen

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