Buster Keaton Tours Canada, Twice

NFBNo celebrity or movie star appearance within the National Film Board of Canada’s library seems to generate more pride by the NFB than Buster Keaton’s appearances in The Railrodder (Gerald Potterton, 1965), a 24-minute comedy short, and Buster Keaton Rides Again (John Spotton, 1965), a 55-minute behind-the-scenes documentary. Buster’s films of the 1920s were undergoing something of a reappraisal at the time, and the NFB took up the opportunity to offer Keaton a chance to return to his roots as a figure of silent comedy riding the rails, this time across panoramic Canadian landscapes. Keaton turned 69 during the shoot and his age shows a bit on The Railrodder, whose more modest gags underwhelm at times. That said, we still love the short film’s ending, and most Keaton fans admire The Railrodder for producing Buster Keaton Rides Again, a fascinating companion piece that offers a portrait of the aging comedian, still insightful about his art and dogged in his work.

As per the NFB:

This short film from director Gerald Potterton (Heavy Metal) stars Buster Keaton in one of the last films of his long career. As “the railrodder”, Keaton crosses Canada from east to west on a railway track speeder. True to Keaton’s genre, the film is full of sight gags as our protagonist putt-putts his way to British Columbia. Not a word is spoken throughout, and Keaton is as spry and ingenious at fetching laughs as he was in the old days of the silent slapsticks.

As per the NFB:

In this film, Keaton rides across Canada on a railway scooter and, between times, rests in a specially appointed passenger coach where he and Mrs. Keaton lived during their Canadian film assignment. This film is about how Buster Keaton made a Canadian travel film, The Railrodder. In this informal study the comedian regales film crew with anecdotes of a lifetime in show business. Excerpts from his silent slapstick films are shown.

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