After nearly 100 years, Our Hospitality stands as the lone stunt train movie. No one is brazen enough to try this anymore, at least without visual effects. But there’s Buster Keaton back in the early ‘20s, nearly killing himself (and others) by speeding off track, jumping the train like a bike, or being dangerously dragged alongside. That’s not even the stupidest stunt either: that involves actual rapids.
Looking back on the Keaton catalog, Our Hospitality pairs well. Like Steamboat Bill Jr. (and others), it’s another look at masculinity and letting the old ways die. That’s threaded into Our Hospitality through a Hatfield/McCoy comedy, in which Keaton is sent away from his feuding family to New York while in infancy, returning to claim his inheritance. The road back is a gag. The arrival is a gag. The attempted escapes from the rival family become gags.
Our Hospitality is silent cinema brilliance
Our Hospitality is silent cinema brilliance
Keaton founded cartoon humor before cartoons. Here there’s a spot where a rope will soon pull Keaton off a cliff; with a second to go before the fall, he looks up at the camera akin to Wil E. Coyote. And the “perilous waterfall awaiting the hero” cliche? That’s all Keaton too.
Our Hospitality peaks a little too early in terms of laughs. That’s the only fault. Before Keaton realizes the family is out to get him, Our Hospitality brings classic lovable idiot comedy into the fray. Keaton even helps one of them load the gun pointed at him.
The Canfield family hold this grudge for unknown cause – before the generation, the feud started for reasons long forgotten. Now, it’s instilled hate, of which Keaton’s mild Willie McKay was never exposed. Set pre-Civil War, Our Hospitality suggests the progression notable in big city life, while in Appalachia, their connection to the old ways keeps them forever locked to an extinct lifestyle. To them, violence defines their manhood; for Willie, it’s merely being a gentleman. That’s made clear when Willie tries breaking up a domestic brawl, only for the abused wife to slap Willie for helping her.
Notable as the first feature length effort from Keaton’s camp, the pacing doesn’t wane. If anything, it’s almost too fast, too energetic, and ultimately, splendid. Flush with risky stunts, the laughs maintain their obscenely high quota through to the finish that sees Keaton swinging across a studio waterfall set – and interior set or not, it’s a hefty fall. The end result is silent cinema brilliance.
Restored at 2K from two different prints according to the included materials, the resulting image is stable and generally clean. The few shots with heavier damage pass quickly. Those scratches have little impact. Given the lack of original negative, the condition deserves celebration.
Marginal grain sits naturally on a soft source, easily resolved by Kino’s encode. Detail shows, if not to a spectacular degree. Texture gives life to shooting locations, defined better than in any prior home presentation. However, numerous shots exhibit some analog-like aliasing, not unlike artifacting, but leaving a shimmering effect on certain edges. Those on smaller screens (or those sitting at distance) might not notice.
Amber tinting coats most of Our Hospitality. A few night scenes utilize blue. While this saps some contrasting energy, overall depth reaches passable levels. Gradients hold hold their side up without banding.
A newly recorded score sounds… new. Orchestral range gives zest to highs and lows. In DTS-HD stereo, the spread is appreciated.
A commentary from historians Farran Smith Nehme and Imogen Sara Smith provides excellent historical context. Two short films – one starring Keaton (A Duel to the Death in HD) and the other his train (The Iron Mule in SD) – make for necessary viewing. An audio appreciation in subtitled French from Serge Bromberg runs four minutes. In the final bonus, Robert Israel delves into his scoring process, and Our Hospitality’s history too.
Buster Keaton succeeded again in Our Hospitality, a story of feuding families given life through full scale train stunts, dangerous rapids, and sight gags.
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