Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Doughboys (1930)

I liked this film. There. I said it. As a matter of fact, one of my next posts is going to be about how these MGM-era Keaton features are not as bad as they are often made out to be. The first principle toward finding enjoyment in them is to adjust your mind to the great change that has come about in Keaton's career. No, it is not an easy adjustment. But if you can temporarily let go of Cops and The General, accept that this is a totally different situation for Keaton, and that you aren't going to see his best work or his most competent skills on display, you may be in for a surprise. Just because they aren't his best doesn't mean they aren't good at all.

Doughboys is very watchable and at parts even enjoyable. It reminds me of any other boot camp show with its bossy sergeant and its mishmashed troops (think Stripes, Private Benjamin, Gomer Pyle USMC). Further, I understand that I'm in good company liking this film, as Keaton himself thought it was his best MGM talkie.

Buster is here again playing Elmer; but this time it's not Elmer Butts -- and oddly, that seems to make a difference. His character is a snooty rich boy who accidentally joins the army, thinking he is hiring a new chauffeur. Reminding me ever so slightly of his character in The Saphead, Battling Butler, or The Navigator, its great to see him with a bit more power in this role. If nothing else, he uses some of the same facial expressions that hark back to those earlier films, making me sense that a bit of his personal spark is smoldering under this character.

There's a fair amount of exterior filming which is really refreshing. I'm not sure how they swung that given that this is a sound film made in 1930, when sound cameras were generally so difficult to work with outdoors people generally didn't bother. I am very glad they made the effort though because outdoor locations gave it an expansive feel, more like the silent films that Buster so excelled at.

The time setting, WWI, is also an excellent choice for a Keaton feature given that Keaton, like his character here, was deployed to France during that war. In the war, Keaton described himself as a sort of self appointed morale officer, performing for his mates; and here, its great to see him as part of the stage set, dancing in drag and doing some great stunts.

The plot is a bit disjointed and strange, but Keaton is enjoyable to watch. If you are a fan, don't be scared away by this one. And if you aren't, well, this one probably isn't for you.


  1. While I still preferred The Passionate Plumber, Doughboys was one of the better Buster MGM talkies. It was cute enough and less of a chore to get through then Free and Easy, that's for sure.

  2. doughboys is busterts best talkies it really shows his true telants.