Buster Keaton’s third feature is a breathtakingly virtuosic display of every silent comedy technique imaginable, from his own formidable physical skills to some then-groundbreaking camera trickery. While there is endless debate as to which is the funniest of Buster Keaton’s 1920s features, there’s little doubt as to which is the cleverest. Anticipating Jean-Luc Godard and postmodernism by decades, the detective fantasy Sherlock Jr. largely takes place inside the head of a hapless and wronged cinema projectionist (Keaton) who – in a sequence that’s a technical marvel to this day – dreams himself into the screen only to be flummoxed by the film’s editing. But that’s merely one relatively early set-piece out of dozens, including a stunt so dangerous that it broke Keaton’s neck – something he wouldn’t discover until a routine medical examination over a decade later.
Always a fan of film technology, Keaton here pushes film special effects to their then limits, though some of the most effective moments make use of old-fashioned vaudeville stage mechanics – such as the moment when he leaps “through” his disguised assistant to evade pursuers.
“A clockwork machine of craftmanship, Sherlock Jr. is Keaton at his best. Precise gag construction, lots of laughs and a personal point of view make this film not only one of the best comedies of all time, but also an early reflection on the role of cinema and storytelling in our personal lives.” Paula Feliz-Didier
“Few captured the majesty of our cinema dream-life as well as Buster Keaton. Here, the movie is the movie is the movie. That each of us could enter and indulge in a redemptive dream life was the tacit promise of the medium and Buster made good on that promise with pathetic nobility.” Steve Seid