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Film / Doughboys

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Buster Keaton swallowed by mud.

Doughboys (1930) is a film directed by Edward Sedgwick and starring Buster Keaton. Keaton plays Elmer Stuyvesant, a lazy aristocrat who cares only for wooing Mary, a local secretary. Mary is not too impressed with Elmer, but bigger problems soon arise when the United States enters World War I. Elmer joins up and has various comic misadventures in boot camp and in France. Mary, who has also joined up as a morale worker, is impressed by Elmer's patriotism, but the war intervenes.

Doughboys was Keaton's fourth starring vehicle for MGM and his second talkie. Critical opinion is divided on this film: Leonard Maltin called it the worst of Keaton's career while Keaton himself considered it his best talkie (admittedly a low bar). It is loosely inspired by Keaton's experiences as a soldier and entertainer in France, and was the last MGM film with which Keaton had any creative input.


  • Ash Face: Sgt. Brophy has one after a grenade thrown by Buster explodes in the American trench.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Buster meets his old valet, a German, in the opposite trench.
  • Creator Cameo: Director Edward Sedgwick plays the camp cook.
  • Description Cut: An American officer tells his French counterpart "We are proud to be with you in your sunny France", and the camera cuts to show Buster's unit marching through a Biblical rainstorm. Later, when the men have gone into the trenches, their officer says "This is a quiet sector." Cue immediate heavy German bombardment.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Sgt. Brophy, the hot-tempered drill sergeant who repeatedly bawls out poor bumbling Elmer.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: Used word-for-word as Elmer's ineffectual courting of Mary is interrupted by newsboys selling papers announcing American intervention in the war.
  • Fainting: Elmer and several of his comrades do this when Sgt. Brophy, during drill, gives an overly detailed description of bayoneting someone.
  • Gentlemen Rankers: Elmer is a very rich young man who blunders into enlisting by mistake (see Upper-Class Twit below).
  • Happy Ending: Not only has Buster married Mary and started his own business with his Army buddies, but Sgt. Brophy is his janitor.
  • Idle Rich: Elmer lives off his family's money, which is one reason Mary rejects him.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Elmer tends to give these.
    Army recruiter: Who's the nearest relative?
    Elmer: My sister. She lives right around the corner.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Buster, tossed out of his billet, wanders into a random cottage and finds a bed. It turns out the next morning to be the second bed in a young woman's room, and her father is pissed.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Used for the closing gag, weirdly enough. The sound of a rivet gun sends Buster and all his old Army friends diving for cover, and causes Sgt. Brophy to shift from servile janitor back to antagonistic Drill Sergeant Nasty.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Dimwitted Elmer, who enlists in the Army by accident when he thinks he's hiring a chauffeur. The scene where a doctor at the recruiting center asks him to strip, and Elmer finally realizes something's wrong, is a highlight of the film.