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Sherlock, Jr.

(1924, Keaton)
A film from the TSPDT 1,000 Greatest Films list whose ranking includes the #1

"Don't try to do two things at once and expect to do justice to both."

That is the proverb that opens up this silent film classic that follows a projectionist (Buster Keaton) that dreams of being a detective. When he is falsely accused of stealing a pocket watch from the father of the girl he loves, he is forbidden from seeing her again. Burdened by this, he ends up dreaming he is inside a film with a similar storyline where he is "the world's greatest detective".

This was only my second Keaton film after The General (I ended up seeing two more of his short films after this), but this one follows a "similar" template in which he finds himself in wacky predicaments to earn the love of a girl. Although there is good slapstick comedy, the main attraction in both are the impressive stunts and effects that Keaton comes up with.

Two of the most impressive moments are the scene where the projectionist steps inside the picture screen, as the scenes change randomly, putting the character in a wide variety of scenarios: from a house to a park bench, from a busy street to a high cliff, from a jungle with lions to a desert with a speeding train. The effect is impressively executed in a seamless way that even to this day, you have to wonder how did he pull it off.

The second most impressive moment for me was the final stunt in the motorcycle where Keaton rides in the handlebar of a motorcycle across different obstacles and terrains without falling off. There is one moment in particular where the motorcycle speeds past both a train track and a road, just as a train and a car are coming through. The shot is done with a camera mounted on the side of the bike and it looks impressive (I just found out it was shot in reverse).

But again, aside from the stunts, there's also good slapstick comedy and a charm to the innocent romance portrayed. The opening proverb about not doing two things at once referred to the projectionist character that was trying to be a detective as well, but it obviously doesn't extend to Keaton, who directs, stars, does his own stunts, and edits the film, and still does more than justice to all of it.