Our Hospitality (1923)
|Directed by||Buster Keaton
John G. Blystone
|Produced by||Joseph M. Schenck|
|Written by||Clyde Bruckman
Joseph A. Mitchell
|Distributed by||Joseph M. Schenck Productions
Metro Pictures Corporation
Our Hospitality is a silent comedy directed by and starring Buster Keaton. Released in 1923 by Metro Pictures Corporation, the movie uses slapstick and situational comedy to tell the story of Willie McKay, who gets caught in the middle of the infamous "Canfield"–"McKay" feud, an obvious satire of the real-life Hatfield–McCoy feud.
It was a groundbreaking work for film comedy as Keaton included "careful integration of gags into a dramatically coherent storyline", "meticulous attention to period detail" and "beautiful cinematography and extensive location shooting". This was a contrast to the usual slapstick comedies of this era. Turner Classic Movies describes Our Hospitality as a "silent film for which no apologies need be made to modern viewers" and Roger Ebert considered it as Keaton's first masterpiece.
The Canfield and McKay families have been feuding for so long, no one remembers the reason the feud started in the first place. One stormy night in 1810, family patriarch John McKay (Edward Coxen) and his rival James Canfield (Tom London) kill each other. After the tragic death of her husband, John's wife decides her son Willie (the infant Buster Keaton Jr.) will not suffer the same fate. She moves to New York to live with her sister, who after the mother's death raises him without telling him of the feud.
Twenty years later, Willie (Buster Keaton Sr.) receives a letter informing him that his father's estate is now his. His aunt tells him of the feud, but he decides to return to his Southern birthplace anyway to claim his inheritance. On the train ride, he meets a girl, Virginia (played by Keaton's wife Natalie Talmadge). They are shy to each other at first, but become acquainted during many train mishaps. At their destination, she is greeted by her father (Joe Roberts) and two brothers (Ralph Bushman and Craig Ward); she, it turns out, is a Canfield. Willie innocently asks one of the brothers where the McKay estate is. The brother offers to show him the way, but stops at every shop in search of a pistol to shoot the unsuspecting Willie. By the time he obtains one, Willie has wandered off. Willie is very disappointed to discover the McKay "estate" is a rundown home, not the stately mansion he had imagined. Later, however, he encounters Virginia, who invites him to supper.
When he arrives, the brothers want to shoot him, but the father refuses to allow it while he is a guest in their mansion. The father refers to this as "our hospitality". When Willie overhears a conversation between the brothers, he finally realizes his grave predicament. A parson comes to supper as well. Afterward, the parson prepares to leave, but he finds it is raining furiously. The Canfield patriarch insists the parson stay the night. McKay invites himself to do the same.
The next morning, McKay stays inside the house, while the Canfield men wait for his departure. The father catches McKay kissing his daughter. McKay finally manages to leave safely by putting on a woman's dress. However, a chase ensues. He eventually starts down a steep cliff side, but is unable to find a way to the bottom. One Canfield lowers a rope (so he can get a better shot) to which Willie ties himself, but the Canfield falls into the water far below, dragging Willie along. Finally, Willie manages to steal the train locomotive and tender, but the tender derails, dumping him into the river towards the rapids. Virginia spots him and goes after him in a rowboat; she falls into the water and is swept over the edge of the large waterfall. McKay swings trapeze-like on a rope, catching her hands in mid-fall and depositing her safely on a ledge.
When it grows dark, the Canfield men decide to continue their murderous search the next day. Returning home, they see Willie and Virginia embracing; Joseph Canfield furiously rushes into the room, gun in hand. He is brought up short by the parson, who asks him if he wishes to kiss the bride. Seeing a hanging "love thy neighbor" sampler, the father decides to bless the union and end the feud. The Canfields place their pistols on a table; Willie then divests himself of the many guns he took from their gun cabinet.
- Buster Keaton as Willie McKay
- Joe Roberts as Joseph Canfield
- Natalie Talmadge as Virginia Canfield
- Ralph Bushman as Clayton Canfield
- Craig Ward as Lee Canfield
- Monte Collins as The Parson
- Joe Keaton as The Locomotive Engineer
- Jack Duffy as The Locomotive Leader
- Kitty Bradbury as Aunt Mary
- Jean Dumas as Mother McKay
- Edward Coxen as Father John McKay
- Tom London as James Canfield
- Buster Keaton Jr. as Willie McKay (1 year old)
- Erwin Connelly as Husband Quarreling with Wife (uncredited)
Although the original Hatfield-McCoy feud happened between 1878 and 1890, Keaton set his film in the 1830s so he could indulge his passion for trains by creating a working model of Stephenson's Rocket, an early locomotive. He also employed a dandy horse which, by the 1830s, would have been out of fashion. The traveling shots of the locomotive are clear precursors to later work on The General (1926), and were shot in the same Oregon locations.
Keaton friend and regular sidekick Joe Roberts suffered a stroke while making this film, and died of a subsequent stroke shortly after the film's completion. Buster Keaton nearly drowned in the Truckee River while filming one of his stunts, his restraining wire broke and he was only saved only by a bend in the river.
This is the only film to feature three generations of Keatons. Buster's father plays the train engineer while Buster's infant son plays a baby version of Buster in the film's prologue. Keaton's wife Natalie was pregnant with their second child during filming, and late in the production she had to be filmed to hide her growing size.
Critics at the time were generally positive. Variety wrote: "This is an unusual comedy picture, a novelty melange of dramatics, low comedy, laughs and thrills. Jean Havez has built up a comedy masterpiece about as serious a subject as a feud. (...) The picture is splendidly cast, flawlessly directed and intelligently photographed. The usual low comedy and slapstick have been modified and woven into a consistent story that is as funny as it is entertaining." Time was also positive: "The Keatons, four of them, combine to make this picture highly hilarious."
Our Hospitality has remained one of Keaton's acclaimed works, holding an average rating of 9.0 at Rotten Tomatoes with 96% positive reviews. Dave Kehr wrote: "With this work, Keaton began to display a dramatic sense to complement his comic sensibility—like The General, it is built with the integrity of a high-adventure story. Of course, Keaton still finds room for his inimitable sight gags and beloved gadgets, here including an early steam locomotive that pulls its carriage train up and down the hills of Pennsylvania with a lovely reptilian grace." Leonard Maltin calls it a "sublime silent comedy, one of Buster's best, with a genuinely hair-raising finale." (four/four stars).
Roger Ebert wrote: "Our Hospitality is Keaton's first feature as auteur and his first masterpiece. It isn't his fastest, funniest or most dazzlingly inventive picture, but it is my sentimental favorite because of its serene, nostalgic beauty -- a vision of a halcyon world (America, circa 1830) that was already, of course, charmingly old-fashioned by 1923 standards. "Our Hospitality" (co-directed by Keaton and Jack Blystone) displays some magnificent pictorial compositions, worthy of John Ford (...) What is first viewed through the frame is not always what it appears to be. But these aren't just tricks or sight gags (though they're often really funny); they are the very fabric of Keaton's constantly transforming cosmos. What a marvelous place it is."
The concept of the movie was used in 2002 Kannada movie titled Balagalittu Olage Baa directed by Dinesh Baboo. A Telugu (Tollywood) film adaptation of the story, titled Maryada Ramanna and directed by S.S. Rajamouli, was released on 23 July 2010. This Telugu movie was remade in Hindi as Ajay Devgn - starrer S.O.S.-Son Of Sardar directed by Ashwini Dhir and in Kannada as Maryade Ramanna starring Komal Kumar and Nisha Shah.It was subsequently remade into a Bengali film, Faande Poriya Boga Kaande Re (2011), starring Soham Chakraborty and Srabanti Chatterjee. A Tamil ( Kollywood ) film remake called Vallavanukku Pullum Aayudham starring Santhanam was released on 10 May 2014. It was also remade in Malayalam as Ivan Maryadaraman.