Twilight Zone – Once Upon A Time

★★★1/2  December 15, 1961 Season 3 Episode 13

If you want to see where we are…HERE is a list of the episodes.

This episode stars my favorite silent movie film maker and comedian Buster Keaton. It doesn’t rank as one of the best episodes but it has its moments. It’s a comedy time travel episode and when they are in 1892 it is a silent movie with subtitles…when they travel to 1962 it goes back to normal dialog. This episode will not be for everyone but a 66 year old Buster Keaton is worth it to me. The man was in great shape to do the things he did in this one. 

Buster Keaton’s popularity had been rising again since James Agee did an article in Life magazine in 1948 about the silent movie comedians Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Harry Langdon.

For me this one is a 5 star episode because of Buster Keaton alone. Him and Chaplin made the best silent comedy films of the twenties. 

It’s really interesting how Serling portrays the past and future. When someone from the past comes into the future…the noise is always noted…how noisy we are today comparted to the past. He did this in an earlier episode called Execution. 

According to Rod Serling’s promo in the previous episode, Richard Matheson wrote this script especially for Buster Keaton.

The old-fashioned clothes wringer that Buster Keaton is using to wash his pants in the beginning is the same kind of wringer that crushed his right forefinger when he was 3 years old. A curious little boy, he got his finger caught in the rollers and a doctor had to amputate it at the first knuckle. In this short, he gets the same finger caught in the wringer for laughs.

This marks the 78th episode overall…that means with this post/episode we are half the way through to 156…again I appreciate everyone who has been along for the ride. 

This show was written by Rod Serling and Richard Matheson

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration: 

Mr. Mulligan, a rather dour critic of his times, is shortly to discover the import of that old phrase, ‘Out of the frying pan, into the fire’—said fire burning brightly at all times—in The Twilight Zone.

Summary

In 1890, janitor Woodrow Mulligan uses his employers’ invention to transport himself to the future. He imagines an Eden but finds a polluted, busy world that he doesn’t find at all attractive. He meets Rollo who is also disgusted with the world he lives imagining life in the 1890s as idyllic. When Woodrow goes back to his own time Rollo goes with him but he is soon bored without any of the conveniences of modern life.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:

‘To each his own’—so goes another old phrase to which Mr. Woodrow Mulligan would heartily subscribe, for he has learned—definitely the hard way—that there’s much wisdom in a third old phrase, which goes as follows: ‘Stay in your own backyard.’ To which it might be added, ‘and, if possible, assist others to stay in theirs’—via, of course, The Twilight Zone.

CAST

Rod Serling… Narrator / Self – Host (uncredited)
Buster Keaton… Woodrow Mulligan
Stanley Adams… Rollo
James Flavin… 1962 Policeman
Gil Lamb… Officer Flannagan
Jesse White… Repair Man
Harry Fleer… 1962 Policeman #2 (uncredited)
Norman Papson… Trumpeter (uncredited)
Warren Parker… Clothes Store Manager (uncredited)
Milton Parsons… Prof. Gilbert (uncredited)
George E. Stone… Fenwick (uncredited)
Arthur Tovey… Sidewalk Onlooker (uncredited)

The General (1927)

Hanspostcard is hosting a movie draft from 12 different genres…this is my Silent Movie entry.

Buster Keaton was a little off kilter to his comedy peers. He was more subtle than Chaplin or Harold Lloyd. Keaton used non movement to his advantage. You would see him in a crowd easily. They would be moving along and his stillness would get your attention.

Chaplin had two rivals in comedy at the time. Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Lloyd was more successful than Keaton but he was more of an actor playing a comedian on screen. Charlie and Buster were stage trained natural comedians and made some of the best comedies of the teens and twenties…and some would say all time.

Buster was an excellent filmmaker. I would put him over Chaplin in that regard. Buster didn’t fake stunts…he didn’t like cutting in at the last minute. He wanted the gag or whatever it was to be filmed in one shot and completely natural.

This is Buster Keaton’s civil war era masterpiece. It was released in 1927 to mediocre reviews. Keaton was ahead of his time and it caught the audience by surprise. This movie is now considered one of the best movies ever made. Buster wanted to make it look real to the era. He told his crew to make it so authentic that it hurt. This film is a reference point to some people to see what the Civil War looked like.

This film contained the most expensive shot in silent movie history. Buster had free rein on this movie and it showed. His budget was $750,000 dollars which was huge at the time for a comedy. Buster had a bridge built just to have a train go across it and crash. The single scene cost 42,000 in 1927 dollars. In today’s money that would be over half a million. But doesn’t it look great?

Buster made the movie in Cottage Grove Oregon. Animal House would be made there 51 years later. When World War 2 came, the train was pulled out of the creek bed and used for scrap iron. People say you can still find fragments around this site of the train.

This movie was based on a true story in the civil war known now as The Great Locomotive Chase or Andrew’s Raid.

The Great Locomotive Chase unfolded during the early years of the Civil War, an attempt by Union forces and sympathizers to destroy railroad infrastructure north of Atlanta, Georgia in hopes of eventually capturing the strategic city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The celebrity locomotive in what also became known as Andrews’ Raid was the Western & Atlantic Railroad’s General. The American Type 4-4-0 steamer was commandeered by James Andrews himself (leader of the raid) and used throughout the chase where he traveled northward from Atlanta causing as much damage as he could. Unfortunately, the hasty Union plans were too slow and disorganized to cause serious damage and most of those involved were eventually captured.

Buster made very few changes in the story. He kept his eye on details though. The cannon he used in the film was built to the specs of the Civil War Era.

When he shot the cannonball from the cannon railway car on the train to land in the locomotive… he kept trying different measures of powder to get it right until he had to use tweezers to get the right amount. He would do gags without camera trickery when he could. Below is the cannon shot… shot without cuts.

He worked for an independent producer Joseph Schenck so he had complete control of his movies. A little while after this movie lost money he had to go into the studio system and still managed to make a couple of great movies for MGM but after that, the studio would control everything he did which meant the quality of his movies took a nose dive.

Keaton was an incredible filmmaker. This movie is a true chase movie. Buster is either chasing the General (train) after it was stolen or being chased by the Union Army in the “Texas” until it crashes in the ravine.

If you have never seen a silent movie…this is a good one to start at…this one and The Gold Rush by Chaplin.

This is one I hope I will be able to see on the big screen one day.

It ranks #155 on the best movies ever on IMDB.

Cast

  • Buster Keaton – Johnnie Gray, Director, Editor, Screenwriter
  • Marion Mack – Annabelle Lee
  • Glen Cavender – Capt. Anderson
  •  Jim Farley – Gen, Thatcher
  •  Fred Vroom – Southern General
  • Richard Allen – His Son
  •  Joe Keaton – Union General
  • Mike Donlin – Union General
  • Tom Nawn – Union General
  • Charles H. Smith – Mr. Lee, Screenwriter
  • Ray Thomas – Raider
  • Jimmy Bryant – Raider
  •  Ross McCutcheon – Raider
  • Charles Phillips – Raider
  • Anthony Harvey Raider
  • Edward Hearn – Union Officer
  • Budd Fine-Raider
  • Frank S. Hagney – Recruiting Officer

Buster Keaton: A Hard Act To Follow

This is a three-part documentary made in 1987. It is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen…not just about Buster but anyone.  Each part is almost an hour long. Kevin Brownlow and David Gill wrote and directed this mini-series. This documentary is interesting for fans and non-fans alike. I have watched it multiple times and showed it to friends to didn’t have much interest in silent movies and they ended up liking it.

Brownlow also worked on “Hollywood” (a 13 part history of the silent era that later I’ll review), The Unknown Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius.

This is in my top 5 of documentaries to recommend to people…I just wish it was easier to get. I had to order it from Europe to get a DVD copy of this.  You can watch all of them on Youtube...below

Buster Keaton was not only a great comedian but a great filmmaker. Some of his special effects in Sherlock Jr and other movies stand up today. I always thought that while Chaplin had the best comedy character…Keaton was the better filmmaker.

Part One (From Vaudeville to Movies)

Covers his vaudeville childhood with his parents. Because of child labor laws, his parents would claim that Buster was an adult actor. They would dress Buster to look old. This part goes through Vaudeville and up until Buster meets Roscoe Arbuckle and starts his career in movies.

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Part Two (Star Without a Studio):

Part Two sums up his great silent movies. He did not work in the studio system…Buster had free reign with his movies in most of the 1920s working for Independent film executive Joe Schenck. Part two shows some of the best scenes from his silent movies until he had to join a studio (MGM) that along with his drinking helped ruin his career.

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Part Three (Genius Recognized):

This part is the downfall and the comeback. Buster worked through the early thirties in some successful talkies but soon by the end of the 30s he was working as a gag writer. He was soon largely forgotten until he appeared in “Sunset Boulevard”, commercials and TV. Buster was in a movie with Chaplin called Limelight in 1952. He began to be praised by historians, critics, and fans alike before he passed away in 1966.

 

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There is a new Buster documentary out called ‘The Great Buster: A Celebration’ by Peter Bogdanovich that I have yet to see. I plan to track it down soon. Either way, this one will be hard to beat.

 

Below is Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow…the complete series.

 

 

 

Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton

Charlie and Buster were two of the best screen comedians ever to walk the earth. They both had similar upbringings. Buster and his family in American vaudeville. Charlie worked in British music halls. Charlie rose to stardom in silent movies in the 1910’s beginning with Keystone, Mutual (where he made his best short comedies)  Essanay and then he confounded United Artist with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and W. D. Griffith. After that Charlie went into full feature films.

Buster started silent shorts in 1917 with Roscoe Arbuckle. After Roscoe broke out on his own so did Buster….he did some more short films which were brilliant. He then went into full features. Buster was just so different than anyone else. He was so still while the world moved into chaos around him. He was a brilliant actor-director and also writer which he often didn’t take credit for doing. If Buster would have just made “The General” his place in film history would be cemented. The same can be said of Charlie Chaplin and his masterpiece “The Gold Rush.”

There was no competition between the two in popularity. Charlie won hands down over Buster and probably everyone else in comedy and drama. His character “The Tramp” was internationally loved. All in all, Keaton was a better filmmaker. They were two different comedians. Chaplin would reach for pathos…sometimes a little too much. Keaton seemed much more real. Keaton’s sight gags were incredible and sometimes dangerous to his health…like have a front of a building that weighed a ton (so it wouldn’t twist in the wind) fall on him with the upstairs opening clearing him around 2 inches on each side. He never smiled because it would have ruined his character. Both are worth watching and with Keaton’s films like Sherlock Jr…you wonder how he did some of the things he did with the primitive camera’s they used.

Both were funny men. The other big comedian was Harold Lloyd but he was more of an actor playing a comedian….he was really successful though… second to Chaplin in making money.

 

Charlie and Buster older both appear in Charlie’s Limelight.

If you could have dinner with 9 people dead or still living…who would they be?

My list is pretty shallow sounding vs what some people would say… like Lincoln, Washington… Nope…no politicians, generals, or leaders…

1: John Lennon – He could be a walking contradiction but so were a lot of British rock stars but he was very intelligent and a superb songwriter. He loved to shock at times but could be very warm, generous and very honest. After he was killed his legend made him out to be some saint…he would have been the first to say he was not one….he didn’t suffer fools well.

2: Babe Ruth – What a guy… To me the best all-around player…Not only was he one of the best power hitters he was also a great left-handed pitcher…I would love to talk to him…get some dogs and beer and enjoy my time with the Babe. Yes, others have broken some of his records…but do they have 94 wins? On top of everything else… he had a huge personality.

3: Harpo Marx – The Marx brother that is my favorite. Yes Groucho is better known but Harpo was one of the most decent guys you could ever be around…he also hung out with the Algonquin round table crowd in the 1920s with writers Alexander Woolcott, brilliant playwright George Kaufman and many more. Harpo came from a very poor family at the turn of the century and he came to know some of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century.

4: Buster Keaton – Probably one of the best filmmakers of the 20th century. He gets overshadowed by Charlie Chaplin. Buster didn’t fake his gags…he didn’t cut away from shots…what you saw on film is what he did. He was a brilliant filmmaker.

5: Charlie Chaplin – Charlie and Babe Ruth were two of the best known celebrities of the 1920s. Charlie’s character The Tramp is still one of the most recognizable characters in history.

6: Jackie Robinson – Yes he was a Dodger and I’m a Dodger fan…but it’s more than that. He had to take so much abuse that probably contributed to his early death. He was a pioneer and should have been just another player if not for stupidity.

7: Keith Moon – I would prepare myself and sleep for as long as possible the day before and then try to keep up with him for as long as possible.

8: Clara Bow – My favorite actress hands down. The original and the only IT girl and could say more with her actions than anyone else with words…she lit up the screen.

9: Keith Richards – The only living member of my wishlist (though some would argue that fact) Keith is just cool period. If I had to describe rock and roll to an alien… I would hand them a copy of Brown Sugar and a picture of a 1972 Keith Richards… I love that he has survived…God Bless you, Keith.