[This was originally posted on May 15, 2019, and was revised on May 18 to correct some factual errors brought to my attention by a colleague.]
The pool game in Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr. is one of the film’s many memorable sequences. For many years, one of the trick shots in the game was only seen by film collectors, while it was absent from the circulating 35mm prints and home video editions. The new digital restorations now available fill in this tiny gap.
The pool game shot is not one that you’d notice was absent, since it’s part of a sequence where Buster makes a shot, then we cut to villain Ward Crane and accomplice Erwin Connelly, and Connelly pantomimes to Crane the trick shot Buster’s made. Since Connelly mimes the action of the missing shot, the elision isn’t that noticeable. I’ve mentioned it to people after screenings of the older edition and they hadn’t noticed it.
It was always a source of frustration to Keaton fans who’d seen the 16mm prints that were around. The shot was in those copies, so it’s not like it was missing or lost.
Raymond Rohauer was notorious for the practice of slightly re-editing films he controlled rights on, so he’d know if anyone had duped his print. He wasn’t alone in doing this. For years, I thought I had a problem following the middle section of The General, until I found out one of the editions that circulated by another distributor for decades had the sequencing of its middle third slightly reshuffled.
Some years ago, when new Blu-ray editions of the Keaton shorts and features were released, the shot missing from the pool game in 35mm prints was filled in, as was a piece of the wide shot when Buster enters the film in the movie theater. I’d actually never noticed this latter snippet was missing, but the Blu-ray edition looks like it had had the missing pieces filled in from a 16mm print, and so the jump in quality in the middle of that wide shot tipped me off.
Still, it was great to know Buster’s iconic film-as-dream (or the other way around) was whole again.
Sherlock, Jr. has been unavailable for screenings in the USA for a few years during the time digital restoration projections were happening. Luckily, the film is now available again, and I’ve been able to say “yes…here’s where you can book it” to theaters interested in showing this Buster Keaton title. I’ve accompanied Sherlock, Jr. at the Cinema Arts Centre a couple months ago, and again at the La Mirada Theater in La Mirada, CA in May.
While Blu-ray/DVD collectors may not feel a need to re-buy titles like The General or Steamboat Bill, Jr. yet again, the disc release of Sherlock, Jr. — when it happens — will be a welcome one to fill in the gap on Keaton fans’ shelves.
The Sherlock Jr. show listing for the February 2019 show at the Cinema Arts Centre’s monthly “Anything But Silent” series is here.
My May 18, 2019 show of Sherlock Jr. in La Mirada CA is listed here.