San Diego Classic Film Calendar

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Railrodder – Buster Keaton’s Last Silent Film from 1965, Wait, What?

I stumbled on the The Railrodder when I was looking at the IMDB page for Buster Keaton. The film was released in 1965 and made in conjunction with the documentary, Buster Keaton Rides Again. Both were produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Buster Keaton Rides Again is a making of film about the production of The Railrodder, though it is twice the length of The Railrodder. Buster Keaton Rides Again is as much a documentary about Keaton’s life as it is a making of.

In The Railrodder, Buster Keaton is a in London reading a newspaper. He sees an ad that says, SEE CANADA NOW! He throws away the paper and jumps off a bridge into the Thames. The next shot he is emerging on a beach in Nova Scotia.  After seeing a sign pointing West and saying Pacific Ocean 3982 ½ miles, he starts to walk along the railroad tracks. He comes on a speeder, an open one seat railroad maintenance vehicle. The seat looks comfy, so he decides to take a nap and accidentally puts it in gear. Off he goes. The rest of the film is a series of gags, following him across the continent.

The Railrodder is definitely a silent film. There isn’t a single word of dialog, only music and overdubbed sound effects. The speeder in addition to having an inexhaustible fuel supply also has a Tardis-like storage cabinet. A running gag throughout the film is him pulling everything from his signature pork-pie hat to a tea set to a blanket and pillow from the tiny cabinet. Keaton celebrated his 69th birthday during the filming. While he is not falling off any buildings, he is clearly doing his own stunts, I presume with the exception of the jumping off the bridge. He certainly had not lost his feel for physical comedy.

The Railrodder is credited as, Written and Directed by Gerald Potterton. Watching the documentary, Buster Keaton Rides Again, it’s clear that he wrote/improvised most of the gags and surely co-directed with Potterton. I honestly don’t think he cared about the writing/director credits. The documentary clearly shows how he worked. The Railrodder is a wonderful short film.

I have embedded The Railrodder below:



Both the The Railrodder and Buster Keaton Rides Again are available for streaming free from National Film Board of Canada’s YouTube page at the links below:


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