Slapsticon Notes: THE SCRIBE (1966)

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Richard M Roberts
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Slapsticon Notes: THE SCRIBE (1966)

Postby Richard M Roberts » Fri Jun 01, 2018 6:07 am

I've had some requests to put up some more notes from the Slapsticon Program Books, so here's one for the last film Buster Keaton ever made:

THE SCRIBE (Film-Tele Productions- Construction Safety Associations of Ontario released May, 1966)

Director: John Sebert, Producers: Ann and Kenneth Ray-Heeley, Screenplay: Paul Sutherland, Clifford Breggins, Camera: Mike Lente, Film and Sound Editor: Kenneth Ray-Heeley.

Cast: Buster Keaton, Cec Linder, Jack Creeley, Trevor Evans, Larry Reynolds, Curt Schiegel, Ed Mirch, Jonathan White.

Buster Keaton last year was one of the busiest of his very busy life; he had appeared in several Beach Pictures for American International, a film called FILM by Samuel Beckett, numerous television appearances, a feature film in Spain and another in Italy, and to wrap up a sixty-five plus year career, he starred in this half-hour industrial safety film for the Construction Safety Associations of Canada.

Shot in Toronto in the first week of October, 1965, when and where he celebrated his seventieth and final birthday, Keaton was certainly not a well man. Diagnosed with emphysema and inoperable lung cancer, he had refused to slow down. Some of his best work in the last few years had been making these short educational and sales films, and he had also done well in Canada of recent, making the ultimately unreleased and unfinished TEN GIRLS AGO with Bert Lahr in Toronto in 1962, travelling through the Great White North on a little putt-putt train coupe for the National Film Board of Canada in THE RAILRODDER in 1964. The $10,000 fee for what was basically a week’s work was also probably too good to refuse. So Buster and Eleanor ventured off into Toronto in a chilly October to make one last little silent comedy.

THE SCRIBE wasn’t seen much at the time, except by construction workers in Canada, and has been hard to find in even a decent faded color print ever since. Slapsticon is delighted to present the film in a recently uncovered print that is apparently in good condition. Just like THE HOMEOWNER, THE TRIUMPH OF LESTER SNAPWELL, and THERES NO BUSINESS LIKE NO BUSINESS, we have a short film that indicated that the producers just gave Buster his head and let him devise gags that illustrate the points they want to make. In other words, Buster’s really in control, and that yields some gold in each of those films.

Buster plays a janitor at a newspaper mistaken for a reporter who is sent out to do a story on construction safety at a building site. Of course, sending Buster Keaton to a building site to research safety is like sending in Lester Maddox in to quell a race riot, and disaster strikes, each one illustrating in a funny, Keatonesque way the safety points on the “little list” he takes with him.

Though Buster is occasionally doubled (and contrary to popular belief, actually rather well doubled, there are times when you will mistakenly think that stuntman Larry Reynolds is actually Buster and visa-versa), it is indeed he up on the being-built building multi-stories above the ground. There may be those wanting to be appalled at the sight of a 70 year old dying man leaping about open girders, but this writer isn’t one of them. I say atta-boy Buster, do not go gently into that long, dark night. He’d been doing that for sixty-seven of those seventy years, who was going to stop him now? In 1965, Chaplin and Lloyd were rich old men, holed up in their mansions with their memories and former glories, their best work behind them. Langdon, Laurel, Hardy, heck, even Ernie Kovacs were already gone. Short of breath and close to death, Buster is still doing it, and he did it until they planted him.

Buster Keaton went out doing what he was born to do and did best, with a lovely and loving wife, all the money and fame he needed, and the security in the knowledge that his place in posterity was achieved. No sad ending here, a few more years would have been nice, but it still was a sixty-five plus year career, unmatched except perhaps by George Burns and Groucho Marx, and at least George had Gracie to get him through the middle of it.

I wonder if the government hacks who trod around that building in Toronto that has now stood some forty-two years realize that they stand in hallowed ground, the place where Buster Keaton gave his last performance. There should be a plaque to dedicate that sort of thing, but there probably isn’t, or some obsessive has already stolen it if there was. Better just to watch the film, definitely one of the few Canadian public safety films from the sixties anyone’s gonna’ watch now, and laugh. As Robert Youngson said at his most disgustingly maudlin, “Somewhere-----Ghosts may be listening…..”

Richard m roberts

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