Keaton's 1947 two-reeler UN DUEL À MORT now on DVD/Blu-Ray

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Ed Watz
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Keaton's 1947 two-reeler UN DUEL À MORT now on DVD/Blu-Ray

Postby Ed Watz » Thu Jun 06, 2019 12:00 pm

One of the Buster Keaton's rarest films, UN DUEL À MORT (A DUEL TO THE DEATH) is now available as an extra on Lobster Film's latest BK release. It's the fifth (of 6 or 7) iterations of Buster's famous dueling scene that he performed seemingly everywhere - on stage, screen, TV and even state fairs, into the 1960s. An added prologue features Buster attempting to fish at a lake, where the competition with other anglers leads to a duel when Buster accidentally smacks another fisherman with his catch. The gags are Buster's and his performance is spot-on perfect, but the film's leisurely pacing hurts the laugh quotient. The staging is likewise Buster's but unfortunately he didn't direct or edit the film. This may not exactly be the best two-reeler to show when introducing someone to Buster, but remember that the Cinematheque in Paris was the only place you could see this - until now.

The main attraction on this set is, of course, OUR HOSPITALITY. More on that title in a later post.

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"Of course he smiled -- just like you and me." -- Harold Goodwin, on Buster Keaton (1976)

William Ferry
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Re: Keaton's 1947 two-reeler UN DUEL À MORT now on DVD/Blu-Ray

Postby William Ferry » Fri Jun 07, 2019 7:57 am

What's the back story of this film? I don't think I've heard of it before. Is the fishing scene by any chance the film that accompanied his stage appearance in MERTON OF THE MOVIES with Jane Dulo?

Ed Watz
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Re: Keaton's 1947 two-reeler UN DUEL À MORT now on DVD/Blu-Ray

Postby Ed Watz » Fri Jun 07, 2019 10:38 am

William Ferry wrote:What's the back story of this film? I don't think I've heard of it before. Is the fishing scene by any chance the film that accompanied his stage appearance in MERTON OF THE MOVIES with Jane Dulo?


Even though UN DUEL À MORT is listed in just about every Buster Keaton filmography, it usually receives the barest mention, if any description is given at all. The Cinematheque Francaise had a 35mm print that could only be screened on their premises, which is where I first caught it a few years ago.

Buster was hired to perform at Paris' Cirque Medrano during the summer of 1947, where he had great success recreating the dueling scene that he first performed in THE PASSIONATE PLUMBER. Uncut newsreel footage of Buster performing the routine at the Medrano during his 1947 debut exists, and the wildly enthusiastic audience's response confirms that he was still enormously popular; and best of all, he's hysterically funny in this live performance.

During Keaton's Medrano run, the idea was suggested to film the act, with Pierre Blondy recruited to direct it. Buster's stage act ran 12 minutes, and included a set-up to the duel between Buster and the Medrano orchestra leader. UN DUEL À MORT, filmed in a Parisian park near a lake, substituted an introductory routine with Buster and three other fishermen vying for a catch in the lake. Between the fishing episode and the dueling routine, the short runs 22 minutes, a very full two reels. It's a sound film with a running music score, mostly dialogue-free although the other performers do speak a few essential French phrases now and then. Buster mumbles a few times and utters one emphatic statement ("Pistols!").

Buster's "movie within the play" footage for his 1957 stage run in MERTON OF THE MOVIES is entirely different new material, filmed by Eleanor with the Keatons' 16mm silent camera.
"Of course he smiled -- just like you and me." -- Harold Goodwin, on Buster Keaton (1976)

Chris Seguin
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Re: Keaton's 1947 two-reeler UN DUEL À MORT now on DVD/Blu-Ray

Postby Chris Seguin » Fri Jun 21, 2019 11:40 am

Well after 40 years of waiting and waiting, I finally got to see this film. In a word, it's a treat. Agreed, Ed, it starts out pokey (it's not dissimilar from the Merton of the Movies footage in that it's almost home movie-like), but the duel itself is fun and charming. It also comes at a really interesting period in Buster's life. One could argue that the depth of his "starring" career was a year earlier with EL MODERNO BARBA AZUL, but here he's right on the brink of a phenomenal comeback with his successful appearance at Cirque Medrano. It must have been a very fulfilling and vindicating time for him.

Chris

Ed Watz
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Re: Keaton's 1947 two-reeler UN DUEL À MORT now on DVD/Blu-Ray

Postby Ed Watz » Sat Jun 22, 2019 2:30 am

Agreed, Chris - Buster's performance in MORT is spot-on perfect.

But I have renewed respect for Jules White as a comedy director when comparing the dueling scene from SHE'S OIL MINE with the version in UN DUEL À MORT. The pacing, timing and presentation overall in Buster's final Columbia short - plus the contributions from the supporting cast - puts over the sequence stronger and funnier in SHE'S OIL MINE than the version seen in MORT (or the original routine in THE PASSIONATE PLUMBER, for that matter).

The first half of UN DUEL À MORT (the fishing routine) takes an awfully long time to get going, and director Blondy (who was primarily an a.d. on a number of prestige French features) doesn't seem to know where to place the camera for maximum effect. Several gags here sadly fall flat because they are not the focal point. Nevertheless, Buster is magnificent, and I only wish he was allowed to direct and edit UN DUEL À MORT - in fact, a re-edit might "darn near" make the second half the pièce de résistance that it was in SHE'S OIL MINE.

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"Of course he smiled -- just like you and me." -- Harold Goodwin, on Buster Keaton (1976)


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