Have you ever wondered what would happen if a herd of cattle were suddenly turned loose in a major city?
Really? You’ve never wondered about that?
Well, if you have pondered this, then you must see the 1925 Buster Keaton comedy-western, Go West. You’ll be delighted with a glorious scene where Keaton frees 1,000 head of cattle from a train in downtown Los Angeles.
It’s funny to see the newly-freed cows and bulls milling about; they visit a china shop (ha ha – get it?), a dress shop and a Turkish bath. They also wander into a barber shop, where a stray cow licks the shaving cream from a terrified customer’s face.
Even if you don’t care for the ol’ bovine-in-the-big-city schtick, you’ll still enjoy this film about a young man (Keaton) who ends up working as a ranch hand in Arizona. The film’s title, Go West, is from the famous quotation, “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country”, commonly attributed to author Horace Greeley c.a. 1850.
Keaton’s character doesn’t have friends (he’s referred to as “Friendless” in the credits), nor does he care. He accepts good luck and bad, equally, with that stoic face.
His fortunes change, however, during a round-up on the ranch, when Keaton removes a stone from a cow’s hoof. Here he gains his first real friend – a cow named Brown Eyes. This grateful cow develops a little “crush” on Keaton, and refuses to leave his side. Keaton repays this loyalty by saving her from the branding iron, and by chasing coyotes away from the barn at night.
But when the owner of the ranch (Howard Truesdale) decides it’s time to ship his 1,000 head of cattle – including Brown Eyes – to the stockyards, Keaton’s equanimity vanishes. When his best efforts to shelter her prove futile, he decides to stow away on the cattle train to protect his best friend.
Go West is a delightful film, written and directed by the rubber-limbed Keaton. His character’s circumstances are rather dismal, but Keaton never lets us pity him. This determined young man is so oddly charming, it’s hard to believe he isn’t the most popular person in town.
As director, Keaton is superb. He sets up his shots for maximum comic effect, and threads running sight gags throughout the film. He also includes innovative camera angles, such as the view from atop a charging bull.
He’s also famously unafraid to place himself in harm’s way. In one scene, he realizes the cattle train is out of control, so he runs along the top of the train and leaps into the engine room. (It’s reminiscent of his masterpiece, The General, released the following year.)
Keaton isn’t a large-scale animal rights activist in this film; he’s intent on saving one animal, not the entire herd. But there is that glorious scene of freeing those poor bovines: When the train arrives in L.A., Keaton methodically slides open the bars on each cattle car and the animals, sensing their Big Chance, spring loose. Director Keaton captures the escape in such a way that we know how these cattle feel: free at last!
Go West isn’t one of Keaton’s most famous movies, but it ought to be. It’s a must-see film that shows us why Keaton became a legend in the first place.
Go West: starring Buster Keaton, Howard Truesdale, Kathleen Myers. Directed by Buster Keaton. Written by Buster Keaton (& Lex Neal). A Metro-Goldwyn Production, 1925, B&W, 54 mins.
This post is part of the BUSTER KEATON BLOGATHON, hosted by Silent-ology. Click HERE for a list of all participants.