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  College Try Try Again
Year: 1927
Director: James W. Horne, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Anne Cornwall, Flora Bramley, Harold Goodwin, Snitz Edwards, Carl Harbaugh, Sam Crawford, Florence Turner
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's graduation day at this California school, and the usually clement weather has gone against the students for it is absolutely lashing with rain. One person bearing the brunt of this downpour is Ronald (Buster Keaton) who is walking to the halls with his doting mother, and buying an umbrella on the way does little to keep them dry. Once they reach the graduation, star pupil Ronald is alarmed to find his suit is shrinking in the wet, and when he gives his speech the audience laugh throughout. Nobody likes a swot, and the girl he has his eye on, Mary (Anne Cornwall), is disappointed to hear him declaim athletic endeavour in favour of his books. He realises he has blown his chance - but can he turn things around in college?

College was one of Keaton's last silents, and owed a lot to an earlier hit in Harold Lloyd's The Freshman; it's notable that the film avoids much in the way of football so as not to resemble the Lloyd effort too much, even though it's pretty much the same story. Still, Keaton was talented enough to make this his own, adpated to his style so that there was plenty of physical comedy for him to indulge in, all achieved with his accomplished flair. As with many of his works from this period, it's all about impressing the woman you have set your heart on, and the reason Ronald puts himself through these trials is to prove himself worthy for Mary.

Funny how you rarely get a great athlete trying to prove how brainy he can be, but a film full of someone poring over texts is perhaps not quite as cinematic. Here, Ronald tries his best against the odds, and most of the movie's running time, which is just over an hour, takes the form of a series of linked sketches, in the main our hero failing to make much headway in the field of sports. While the skits are rarely up there with Keaton's best work - the surreal quality he would often lend his screen adventures is lacking - there's enough to make you laugh regularly here, and not only with the athletic business, and there are more than a few scenes that are genuinely hilarious if you're in the mood.

To pad things out, Ronald has to find a job to pay his way through his learning, which leads to one of Keaton's funniest bits, where he tries manfully to be a show-off soda jerk, flinging the ice cream and drinks around and generally making a terrible mess: if only Tom Cruise in Cocktail had been a little more like this. He also gets a job in an all-black kitchen, meaning he has to black up in a sequence unlikely to be made today, and when he is found out the workers chase him with cleavers! At least he got to do his somersault while keeping the soup in the bowl trick, and in its way this part illustrates how not OK blackface is. But it's the sports which are the largest part of the story, as Ronald is humiliated by his lack of prowess time and again, knocking over the hurdles, breaking the high jump pole and losing a disastrous baseball game. If anything, Buster is too hard on himself, and too cruel to Ronald, though he proves himself to Mary by the end in an inspired finale where we see his efforts have sunk in.

[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
Stills Galleries
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.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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