Monday, January 2, 2012

Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton | One Week

the honeymoon
by Douglas Messerli

Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton (writers and directors) One Week  / 1920

 In the first film released by Keaton’s Comique Film Corporation that he took over when Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle moved to Paramount, the noted comedian tackled the tricky subject of a new married couple attempting to build a house. Upon leaving the wedding chapel, the Groom (Buster Keaton) and Bride (Sybil Seely) take a rather horrifying drive home with the Bride’s former suitor, who every time the couple attempts a kiss, turns back to them, frustrating their attempts at intimacy. At one point, evidently out of her frustration, the Bride leaves the car to enter a passing automobile, with the Groom attempting, soon after, to join her. He, however, is trapped between the vehicles, his legs outstretched as a motorcycle races between the two cars, carrying him away with it. After a fall from the cycle, the Groom, knocking out a traffic cop, quickly replaces him, as he directs his wife’s car toward another path and joins her, free, at last, of the unwanted intruder.

      This first series of events gives us a glimpse of the honeymoon problems this couple will face, as they soon discover that it is nearly impossible to get rid of the jealous former suitor. As a wedding present the couple has been sent by the Groom’s uncle a build-it-yourself house, with the materials gathered into bundles and numbered, a set of instructions on top of the first batch. The Bride sets up a sort of outdoor kitchen, while the Groom goes to work on the 9th, planning, as the instructions promise, to finish the new abode within the week.

     The Groom, it soon becomes obvious, is not a natural carpenter, sawing himself off of beams while walls of the partially constructed house, come crashing to the ground. He is saved by his accidental location, which matches the position of an open window. But even further havoc is caused by the former suitor, who renumbers the packages, so that as the building slowly comes into existence, we see it developing with a series of surrealist-like angles, a roof too small for the structure, a porch leaning in triangulate corners, and windows slanting in opposing directions. Walls flip from inside to out, rooms lead to nowhere. The final result, indeed, looks something like a Frank Gehry creation, without any of the great architect’s grace.

     The delivery of his wife’s piano causes further difficulties as, upon its arrival, it falls upon the Groom, trapping him beneath. The piano mover lifts it only so that the Groom can sign for its delivery, dropping it upon him again. Now the problem is to get the piano into the house. The Groom rigs up a series of metal links which he attaches to a chandelier, the Bride has draping it around the instrument. As he pulls on the links, the ceiling sags at the very place where the “helping” former suitor sits upstairs, he sinking along with the floor. Suddenly realizing what is happening, the Groom lets loose of his pulley, the former suitor being propelled through the roof as the floor returns to place. The Groom must use the porch railing as a ladder to free his arch enemy, but accidentally delivers justice by hitting him on the head with a metal pipe.

     The couple is delighted at the end of the week by the house’s completion and, despite the absurd look of the house, invite in friends to celebrate. But as they begin a tour of the home, a windy storm whips through the countryside, pouring its rainy contents through the open spaces of the roof. Umbrella in hand, the Groom climbs to the outside to check it out, while the house, caught up in the wind, begins, at first slowly, then faster and faster, to spin, he attempting to reenter it and save his rolling wife and her guest, but unable to gain enough velocity to enter. The scene is one of the most amazing sight gags of all time, particularly when one realizes that the house was a real construction against which Keaton is pushed and pulled time after time.

     Even when the rain subsides, there are more troubles ahead, as the couple is told that they have built the house on the wrong side of the tracks. A car attempts to pull the house to the other side, but it becomes stuck on the tracks as a train speeds toward it. Fortunately the train passes by on another set of tracks, but a second later another train—it, on the “right” set of tracks—crashes through demolishing the monster do-it-yourself-project.

     The couple escapes from the debacle just in time, the Groom, returning with the equanimity he has shown throughout all the film’s disasters, to post a “For Sale” sign. Having survived this terrible first week of their relationship, it is clear this couple can survive anything that might come their way.

Los Angeles, January 1, 2012
Reprinted from International Cinema Review (January 2012).

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