Kino finishes out their run of mostly extraordinary Buster Keaton Blu-rays with 1927’s College, an episodic academic romp with minor ambitions and minor pleasures. The best certainly hasn’t been saved for last, but Keaton lovers will definitely want to add this excellent edition to their shelves. Directed by James W. Horne and Keaton (although Keaton reportedly claimed he did most of the work), College is an attempt to ride the wave of the popular collegiate comedies of the era, and it has a direct antecedent in Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman from two years earlier.
The trouble with College is that most of its vignettes lack the energy and vitality of the best Keaton stunts, and Keaton’s well-developed persona as a stoic outsider doesn’t mesh terribly well with his character of Ronald, a striver who neglects his academic interests for athletic ones in hopes of winning the heart of Mary (Anne Cornwall).
The film’s best sequence is its first one, where Ronald’s high school graduation speech on “the curse of the athlete” is accompanied by a suddenly shrunken suit, which impedes his movement in a variety of hilarious ways.
When he gets to college, Ronald realizes that being a bookworm isn’t the most conducive to social success, so he tries his hand at baseball and track, with predictably poor results. There’s a germ of an interesting idea here, with a protagonist willfully abandoning his staunchest principles (and this is right in Keaton’s wheelhouse), but the slight film is more interested in inept sports gags, many of which are mildly amusing but lack the surprising dynamic qualities of Keaton’s best work.
Ronald’s forays into becoming a soda jerk and the coxswain of the crew team show a little more visual inventiveness, and the film’s final sequence, when it becomes clear that he actually did learn something from all those failures, is a small-scale example of Keaton’s genius. Also notable is the matter-of-factly downbeat ending, when the happily-ever-after segues into a graveside scene in a matter of seconds.
The Blu-ray Disc
College is granted a 1080p high definition transfer in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Stacked up against the rest of the Kino Keaton Blu-rays, this one probably falls somewhere in the middle, with an intermittently soft image and a consistent thin line running across the bottom of the frame. Kino’s handling of the so-so source materials is fantastic though, as usual, and the film does retain some nice instances of fine detail. The uncompressed stereo audio is just fine, and features an organ score from John Muri.
Extras include an audio commentary by Rob Farr, a video essay by John Bengston on the film’s shooting locations in Los Angeles and Newport Beach, and the 1966 industrial film The Scribe, which features Keaton’s last film role as a janitor trying to enforce safety practices at a construction site.
The Bottom Line
They might not all be masterpieces (and College certainly isn’t), but Kino’s entire run of Buster Keaton Blu-rays belongs on any film fan’s shelf.