Written and directed with Keaton’s long-time collaborator, Edward F. Cline, The Scarecrow has it all – romance, car chases and lots and lots of laughs. This twenty minute two-reel comedy came in 1920, just three years after Keaton had been given his own production unit following his early work with ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle. In The Scarecrow, Keaton demonstrates his immense talent for physical comedy. With a career that began in childhood as part of the Vaudeville Three Keatons group, Keaton already had a great deal of experience with stunts and trick falls.
But what makes The Scarecrow so special is the strong narrative that runs through it, exploring the place of women in the family, marriage and romance. The Scarecrow also illustrates Keaton’s immense creativity. A quote from David Thomson (from The New Biographical Dictionary Of Film cited on They Shoot Pictures Don’t They) argues that this is one of the main reasons for Keaton’s lasting appeal:
‘Keaton strikes a chord with the world of post-1960 that was not heard when his greatest films were made. It has been argued, with justice, that his films are “beautiful,” which means that their comedy is expressed in photography that is creative, witty, and excited by the appearance of things. That sounds obvious, but most comedy films of the silent era did little more than film the comedian’s “act.”’
Many ideas in The Scarecrow are terrifically imaginative. The film opens on two men living in a house of one room. To save on time and effort they have created a whole range of contraptions to help set the table, clean the dishes and empty out the bathwater. The scene closes on a sign that reveals their motivation behind this lifestyle. The stunts are also very funny and surprising. Keaton is chased by a mad dog around the top of ruined building and gets caught up in a farmer’s haymaking. The whole films comes together in a stunning ending that is brimming with hope and joy.
This is a perfect little film that is well-worth the twenty minutes it takes to watch it. Magical and captivating, I love it.