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Film / Steamboat Bill, Jr.

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Doo-doodoo-doo... Oh, right.

One of Buster Keaton's most famous films, this silent movie from 1928 stars Keaton as a steamboat owner's son, who hasn't seen his father since he was very young. Bill Jr. is clumsy, sloppy, and likes a girl named Kitty King who is the daughter of a rival steamboat captain. Eventually his father gets fed up and tells him to return to Boston. As he's about to go, his father's steamboat is condemned and his father arrested in a situation instigated by the rival. He tears up the train ticket to Boston, and breaks his father out of jail. There's a big storm, and things blow around that really shouldn't blow around. Eventually, he manages to save his father, the rival, and the daughter from the storm.

Buster Keaton's last film as an independent filmmaker. It did poorly at the box office. After this film he signed a contract with MGM, which led to the loss of his artistic independence and soon the ruin of his career.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: During the hat-buying sequence, Keaton's character is handed a copy of his trademark pork pie hat, which he instantly flings away in disgust.
  • Blatant Lies: "That must have happened when the dough fell in the tool chest."
  • By Wall That Is Holey: The Trope Maker. As Buster is standing in front of a building, the whole front facade of the building falls down on Buster—but fortunately the open window neatly fits over the spot where Buster is standing.
  • The Dandy: Bill Jr., who arrives at his father's steamboat in a beret, an ornate suit, and a ridiculous pencil mustache. His rough, tough father is horrified.
  • Drowning Pit: Bill Sr. drowning in his cell, after the cyclone blows the jail cabin into the river.
  • Iconic Outfit: The famous porkpie hat is used for a gag. Bill Sr., horrified at Bill Jr.'s dumb beret, takes him to a hat shop. He tries on a succession of hats that are almost but not quite identical to his standard porkpie. When he finally gets the porkpie, he quickly throws it away.
  • Irony: the rival claims that Bill's steamboat should be condemned because the first strong wind will sink it. Guess what is the only structure to survive the storm.
  • Jail Bake: Instead of the traditional file-in-a-cake, it's tools in a loaf of bread, but same principle.
  • No Peripheral Vision: Bill Jr. hides by crouching and by lying down on a board.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Both fathers do this, with the implication they would prefer an Arranged Marriage.
  • Shopping Montage: Subverted — Bill Sr. makes his son try on a dozen hats (including Buster's signature flat porkpie) in an attempt to replace his beret, only for the hat to blow off almost immediately.
  • Sleeping Dummy: For Bill Jr. to escape from his father and meet his girlfriend.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Bill Jr.'s father and Kitty's father are owners of rival steamboats.
  • A Storm Is Coming: So says the local newspaper. Sure enough, a cyclone comes and wrecks the town.
  • Trash the Set: Much of the town is destroyed in the climactic storm.
  • Wrongful Accusation Insurance: Breaking someone out of jail is a crime no matter how trumped up the charges.


Video Example(s):


Steamboat Bill, Jr.

This particular stunt was noted for being done without any trickery (and for being botched by the crew at one point; they measured it wrong and missed flattening Buster Keaton's skull by mere inches). It's reported that both the cameraman and director were too scared to watch when the stunt was performed. It's worth noting that Keaton decided a prop wall would not look realistic enough so the wall used in this scene is a real wall built to code and would have easily crushed him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (18 votes)

Example of:

Main / ByWallThatIsHoley

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