Sherlock Jr.

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Sherlock Jr.
Keaton Sherlock Jr 1924.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Buster Keaton
Produced by Joseph M. Schenck
Buster Keaton
Written by Clyde Bruckman
Jean Havez
Joseph A. Mitchell
Starring Buster Keaton
Music by Club Foot Orchestra, Beth Custer, Myles Boysen, Steve Kirk, Nik Phelps, Sheldon Brownl
Cinematography Byron Houck
Elgin Lessley
Edited by Buster Keaton
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn Pictures
Release dates
  • April 21, 1924 (1924-04-21)
Running time
45 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles

Sherlock Jr. (1924) is an American silent comedy film directed by and starring Buster Keaton and written by Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez and Joseph A. Mitchell. It features Kathryn McGuire, Joe Keaton and Ward Crane.

In 1991, Sherlock Jr. was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." In 2000, the American Film Institute, as part of its AFI 100 Years... series, ranked the film #62 in its list of the funniest films of all time (AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs).


A movie theater projectionist and janitor (Buster Keaton) is in love with a beautiful girl (Kathryn McGuire). However, he has a rival, the "local sheik" (Ward Crane). Neither has much money. The projectionist buys a $1 box of chocolates, all he can afford, and changes the price to $4 before giving it and a ring to her. The sheik steals and pawns the girl's father's pocket watch for $4. With the money, he buys a $3 box of chocolates for the girl. When the father notices his watch is missing, the sheik slips the pawn ticket into the projectionist's pocket unnoticed. The projectionist, studying to be a detective, offers to solve the crime, but when the pawn ticket is found he is banished from the girl's home.

While showing a film about the theft of a pearl necklace, he falls asleep and dreams that he enters the movie as a detective, Sherlock Jr.. The other actors are replaced by the projectionist's "real" acquaintances. The dream begins with the theft being committed by the villain (played by the local sheik) with the aid of the butler (played by the hired man). The girl's father calls for the world's greatest detective, and Sherlock Jr. arrives. Fearing that they will be caught, the villain and the butler attempt to kill Sherlock through several traps, poison, and an elaborate pool game with an exploding 13 ball. When these fail, the villain and butler try to escape. Sherlock Jr. tracks them down to a warehouse but is outnumbered by the gang that the villain was selling the necklace to. During the confrontation, Sherlock discovers that they have kidnapped the girl. With the help of his assistant, Gillette, Sherlock Jr. manages to escape this situation, save the girl, and defeat the gang.

When he awakens, the girl shows up to tell him that she and her father learned the identity of the real thief after going to the pawn shop to see who actually pawned the pocket watch. As a reconciliation scene happens to be playing on the screen, the projectionist mimics the actor's romantic behavior.


  • Buster Keaton as Projectionist / Sherlock Jr. - A poor, young projectionist that wants to marry The Girl. He has an interest in being a detective and when he falls asleep, he dreams of being Sherlock Jr., the world's greatest detective.
  • Kathryn McGuire as The Girl - The daughter of a fairly wealthy man, whom the Projectionist is in love with. In the dream, she must be saved by Sherlock Jr..
  • Joe Keaton as The Girl's Father - A man who is wealthier than most. He does not want his daughter marrying a thief. In the dream, he is a very rich man.
  • Erwin Connelly as The Hired Man / The Butler - A hired man of the girl's father. In the dream, he is a co-conspirator in the theft of the necklace.
  • Ward Crane as The Local Sheik / The Villain - A poor scoundrel that has his eyes for the girl. He steals the pocket watch, and in the dream, he is the villain who steals the necklace.
  • Ford West as Theatre Manager / Gillette, Sherlock's assistant - The projectionist's boss in the real world. In the dream, he is the assistant.


Keaton depicted an early example of a film within a film in the dream scene, which consists of the main character, Sherlock, entering the world of the parlor mystery-film he is watching. Sherlock is transported to a total of seven different scenes. This was unique at the time because there was a continuity to the scenes and this strategy had rarely been used by film makers. Keaton and his camera man were able to do this by using surveyor's instruments to position Keaton and the camera at exactly the right distances and positions to provide the illusion of continuity.[1]

Keaton played as the stunt-double for his actors. He performed most of the stunts live and without the use of camera tricks. For example, Keaton served as the stunt double in the driverless motorcycle chase where he fell off the motorcycle and later in the scene ended up in the path of an oncoming train. It was later revealed that this scene was accomplished by filming it backwards. Keaton sustained injuries due to his participation in these stunts. In one of the scenes, Keaton pulled the draw rope of a water spout and water came rushing out. The force of the water was much greater than expected and as a result, Keaton hit his head on the train rail. Keaton complained of headaches for several days afterwards and several years later, an X-ray revealed a fractured neck as a result from the accident.[2]


Critical response[edit]

Although Sherlock Jr. was not a popular success in its day, it received critical praise from The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlanta Constitution.[3][4][5][6] Since its release, the movie has gone on to be recognized as a classic.

Recently, Time magazine named Sherlock Jr. as one of the All-Time 100 Movies. They wrote, "The impeccable comedian directs himself in an impeccable silent comedy...Is this, as some critics have argued, an example of primitive American surrealism? Sure. But let's not get fancy about it. It is more significantly, a great example of American minimalism—simple objects and movement manipulated in casually complex ways to generate a steadily rising gale of laughter. The whole thing is only 45 minutes long, not a second of which is wasted. In an age when most comedies are all windup and no punch, this is the most treasurable of virtues."[7]

Film critic Dennis Schwartz wrote, "[The film is] one of Buster's superior silent comedies that's noted for his usual deadpan humor, frolicsome slapstick, the number of very funny sight gags, the many innovative technical accomplishments and that he did his own stunts (including the dangerous one where he was hanging off a ladder connected to a huge water basin as the water poured out and washed him onto the railroad track, fracturing his neck nearly to the point of breaking it. Keaton suffered from severe migraines for years after making this movie)."[8]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports 94% approval from 17 critics, with an average rating of 9.7/10.[9]

In 2012, it was ranked number 61 in a list of the best-edited films of all time as selected by the members of the Motion Picture Editors Guild.[10]


In 1991, Sherlock Jr. was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fay, Jennifer (January 2014). "Buster Keaton's Climate Change". Modernism/modernity. 21 (1): 25–49. doi:10.1353/mod.2014.0006. 
  2. ^ Miller, John M. "Sherlock, Jr.". TCM. Press Room. 
  3. ^ The New York Times. Film review, May 26, 1924.
  4. ^ The Los Angeles Times. Film review, April 28, 1924.
  5. ^ The Washington Post. Film review, May 12, 1924.
  6. ^ The Atlanta Constitution. Film review, April 27, 1924.
  7. ^ Time. Film review, 2005. Last accessed: February 21, 2008.
  8. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, November 20, 2006. Last accessed: February 21, 2008.
  9. ^ Sherlock Jr. at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: February 21, 2008.
  10. ^ The 75 Best Edited Films. Last accessed: January 5, 2013.
  11. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-07. 
  12. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees (10th Anniversary Edition)" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-07. 

External links[edit]