A Crooked House on 99 Apple Street: One Week (1920)

In a generation that expects glossy special effects and CGI-laden action movies it is hard to promote silent era film.  I find this tragic, particularly given that many of these films relied on minimal technology to create death defying action sequences.  None proved this notion better than Buster Keaton.  His 1920 short film One Week, while by no means as grand as The General or Sherlock Jr. nonetheless involves zany antics and feats of dexterity that have disappeared from contemporary filmmaking.  In a matter of twenty minutes, Keaton is able to thrill audiences, study relationships and resolve male rivalry, all with the signature humor and slapstick with that makes him my favorite of the silent film stars.  It is a reminder to all directors that in some instances the most elaborate moments in film can result from the simplest of devices.

The storyline is rather involved for being so short.  The film centers on The Groom (Buster Keaton) and his newly acquired Bride (Sybil Seely) as they set out to enjoy their first week of married life.  Enjoyment is not instantaneous given the interference by a local ruffian who envies The Groom.  His interference is only exacerbated by the discovery that the house purchased by The Groom's uncle is unbuilt and proves more complicated to assemble than IKEA furniture.  After several attempts to properly assemble the house and protect his wife from the advances of his rival, The Groom discovers that due to an error is numbering he and his wife were actually meant to live across the railroad tracks.  In one of the short films best moments, the couple attach barrels to their mangled house and drive it across the tracks.  Unfortunately in Keaton's slapstick style the house becomes stuck on the tracks and is pummeled by an oncoming train (mind you this crash is performed in 1920).  In frustration, The Groom places a FOR SALE sign on the property and walks off into the sunset.

Not a lot going on here in regards to criticism.  I just want to reemphasize the simplicity of special effects that still manage to provide a sense of awe to even the most hardened of filmgoer.  I am constantly blown away by how magical Keaton's films are despite using the most basic of editing techniques ( For a particularly notable example check out the dream sequence in Sherlock Jr.).  The simplicity of effects is only made more intriguing as it lies in direct opposition to Keaton's large scale stunts, whether it be rotating houses, jumping between vehicles or hauling pianos up stairs, it is mastery of performance that rarely exists anymore.  Also of note in the film is a brief, and rather risque, bathtub scene that is indicative of a pre-Hays code Hollywood that allowed for implication of female nudity.  In a moment of early post-modernism the viewers gaze upon the nude woman is interrupted by a hand, obviously that of the cameraman, a not so subtle reminder that the viewer is in fact viewing a film and not directly living an experience.

One Week is classic Keaton.  For those who are unversed in silent era comedy, he is the man to watch.  I know that Chaplin is the more well recognized of the slapstick masters, but I would pick the bewildered and wide-eyed Keaton any day.  One Week is available on Netflix, but is also rampant on YouTube.  Watch it, love it and realize the superiority of this film over most any action film made today.

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