This week marks 50 years since cinema legend Buster Keaton died. He was acting, writing and directing in an era when there was no CGI or real technology around and you simply had to rely on raw talent to get you through. The silent film era provides us with some of the most amazing cinematography ever and many of these films have been wrongly forgotten!
He performed some of the most dangerous stunts in cinema history – without any real thought for safety. Here are 5 of his best!
Steamboat Bill Jr. A HOUSE falls on Keaton!
In this remarkable clip, an entire house falls on Keaton’s head as he stands by, helpless. This is from the very funny film Steamboat Bill Jr. The measurements and judgement on this had to be exact – if the house had fallen an inch either way, Keaton would have been killed. This is not a “stunt” house, or a prop wall – it’s a genuine house front! There was such worry over the filming of this scene that a priest came on set to pray for Buster. It worked! He survived and we’re left with an awesome bit of film.
Buster breaks his neck!
Taken from the film Sherlock Jr. You’ll see Buster being smashed onto the rail track with the force of a jet of water coming from the tower he stands underneath. At the time, it knocked him unconscious, but after a few days he seemed recovered. The film was a great success. Many years later, Buster had a medical for a film he was going to star in and an x-ray showed he had broken his neck previously. The Dr asked him if he knew about it and Buster said he’d no idea. After a while, he remembered this stunt and told the Dr. He replied that this was more than likely the cause. Once again, he was lucky he wasn’t killed!
The Motorcycle chase!
This is taken from one of his first short films called One Week. Watch the short clip as Keaton is railroaded by two cars and a motorcycle. His speed and bravery are breathtaking.
The Boulder chase!
Witness the sheer breathtaking fitness of the man, during the chase scene from his acclaimed film 7 Chances. Whilst the stunt itself was tame in comparison to some of the others, the speed at which he can run, and outwit the weight of the boulders is phenomenal. Usain Bolt wouldn’t stand a chance!
The most expensive stunt in silent film history!
At the time, in 1927, this stunt, from the film The General, was the most expensive stunt ever created in film history. You don’t have to wait long to witness as an entire steam train falls in the river. Many of the extras watching feared that Buster was still driving the train when it crashed, and had been killed. But he hadn’t. It was a stunt dummy and nobody was harmed!