Some of us make our way through life making friends wherever we go, others simply travel, and that latter is the way with the friendless young man (Buster Keaton) who we will watch try to make even a small success of his existence, first by selling all his possessions to get a foothold. Though in his hometown nobody cares for him one jot, which becomes apparent when the general store owner he sells his stuff to gives him a paltry sum in return, then insists he pay him for retrieving his toothbrush and shaving kit. Eventually, all the man has left in the world is a loaf of bread and a sausage, which he makes up his mind will sustain him on his goal to reach New York City; however, when he reaches it the place is so crowded, it's utterly inhospitable...
So Buster takes the advice of Horace Greeley, and the title of this film, "Go West, young man" as his protagonist hops aboard a freight train bound for Santa Fe, but thanks to yet more bad luck he chooses the truck that's full of barrels, and along the way they tumble out of the door with Buster too, leaving him stranded in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, there happens to be a cattle ranch in the middle of this nowhere, which led Keaton to his most unusual co-star and leading lady: an actual cow called Brown Eyes, which won her own credit in the titles. More than anything, this was one of the great animal lover films, and though Buster does have that large sausage to eat, he comes to a profound understanding of what it is to be at one with the animals.
Or one animal, at least: he spent part of the production schedule letting the cow get used to him so they would have a natural relationship onscreen, and it certainly paid off - cattle are not usually thought of as ideal pets, but Brown Eyes reputedly fell for her co-star just as her screen persona was supposed to, happy to follow him anywhere for the duration of the shoot. With movies focused on animals, they become heroic in some way because they are domestic and we like to hear about such creatures getting along famously with human beings, but the cow here was no Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, it remained unmistakably bovine throughout and the grand finale which featured the kind of all-action activity Keaton had made his name with had her heroic by association rather than acting on her own specific agency.
But Go West was perhaps Buster's most sentimental effort, though a more accurate word would be sweet: a star who never changes his expression (or not much, anyway) was not going to be one who appealed for audience sympathy like Charlie Chaplin would, and for that reason he has aged better than his contemporaries for whom the schmaltz was not shied away from. Here it was as if Keaton was trying out that effect, but subverting it by practically making a spoof out of it, as the love story betwixt man and cow is inherently ridiculous (think of the jokes you could make yourself, not all of them innocent) and he made no secret of believing that across the story here. There was a human love interest (Kathleen Myers), but she was overshadowed by the creature, it was so ludicrous, and the fact that "Friendless" as he is called in the credits has genuinely found a four-legged friend he treats like Roy Rogers treated Trigger, is unexpectedly winning. It wasn't his funniest film, yet it was his sweetest from beginning to end.
[This is available on Eureka's Buster Keaton: 3 Films Volume 3 Blu-ray set.
Just look at the masses of special features you get:
Our Hospitality: Presented in 1080p from a 2K restoration
Go West: Presented in 1080p from a 4K restoration
College: Presented in 1080p from a 2K restoration
Our Hospitality: new audio commentary by silent film historian Rob Farr
Hospitality [55 mins]: a shorter work-print version of Our Hospitality, presented with optional commentary by film historian Polly Rose
Making Comedy Beautiful [26 mins]: video essay by Patricia Eliot Tobias
Go West: new audio commentary by film historians Joel Goss and Bruce Lawton
Go West: new video essay by John Bengtson (Silent Echoes / Silent Traces / Silent Visions) on Go West's filming locations
A Window on Keaton [28 mins]: new video essay by David Cairns
Go West [1923, 12 mins]: short film
College: video essay by John Bengtson on College's filming locations
The Railrodder [1965, 24 mins]: produced by the National Film Board of Canada and starring Buster Keaton in one of his final film roles
The Railrodder: optional audio commentary with director Gerald Potterton and cameraman David De Volpi
Buster Keaton Rides Again [1965, 55 mins]: documentary feature produced concurrently with, the filming of The Railrodder
Q&A with Gerald Potterton [55 mins]: audio recording of a post-screening Q&A with The Railrodder director Gerald Potterton, and David De Volpi
PLUS: A 60-PAGE perfect bound collector's book featuring new writing by Philip Kemp; essays on all three films by Imogen Sara Smith; a piece by John Bengtson on the filming locations of Our Hospitality; Gerald Potterton's original treatment for The Railrodder; and an appreciation of Keaton and The Railrodder by writer and silent cinema aficionado Chris Seguin.]