Buster Keaton: Animal Rights Activist

Buster Keaton lsdkfj sdj f Image: lskdjf sdkj
Buster Keaton with his best friend. Image: Britannica.com

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.

Keaton is told to smile when he calls someone a cheat. Image: lsdkjf jdks
Keaton is told to smile when he calls someone a cheat. Image: blu-ray.com

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.




  1. I’m happy you wrote about Go West. It doesn’t get as much attention as some of Buster’s other movies. Brown Eyes is a charming and sensitive actress. I remember Walter Kerr complaining in The Silent Clowns that Buster had to resort to a lot of tricks to make a slow-moving group of cows seem exciting. But they are good tricks. Thank you for sharing with all of us.


    • Yes, I read – true or not – Buster spent 10 days training Brown Eyes, but she went into heat and delayed filming for two weeks.

      Cattle can appear to be rather a dull bunch – unless they’re threatened – but, like you said, Buster was able to turn them into some pretty exciting “extras”.


  2. I added this to my watch-list while I was researching Keaton and was hoping someone would cover it… happy it was you 🙂
    It sounds like a lot of fun, and I’m happy to know there are still so many Keaton gems left to discover. I agree it should be more recognised, but uncovering a gem like this is like finding a secret.


  3. If you go back and watch the scene where the cows lick the shaving cream off of the mans face. You will notice that it is Joe Keaton and watch for his hitch kick when he gets into the window front.


  4. I got to see Go West on the big screen with an appreciative audience–you can imagine that there was plenty of laughter and plenty of “awww” moments too! You know, it’s proof of Buster’s ability as a filmmaker that a film like Go West would be considered “minor.” If one of the lesser clowns had made it, it probably would be considered a masterpiece.

    Thank you so much for the joining the blogathon!


    • On the big screen?! No way! And with an appreciative audience, too – what a treat.

      You’re right about Buster’s talent when a film of this caliber is considered “minor”!

      Thanks so much for hosting this wonderful tribute to one of the best Hollywood filmmakers.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Lovely write-up! I saw Go West in a theater some decades ago when The Silent Clowns came out and there was a sort of roadshow tour of the movies from the book. It was incredible to see Keaton and Chaplin movies in decent-sized theaters… only thing better is seeing them with live accompaniment. I remember being really charmed by Go West and loving Brown Eyes and Keaton together, two sets of beautiful, liquid eyes. They seemed to share silence so companionably…


    • Buster Keaton and Brown Eyes do share a companionable silence, don’t they? That’s a perfect way of putting it. To see this (and other Keaton movies) on the big screen would be such a treat! Thanks for dropping by. 🙂


  6. This movie sounds like a lot of fun. I haven’t seen too many of this genre. Not sure if I could get my husband to watch with me. He worked on a dairy for 5 years, and is not too fond of cows anymore!:) Fun that it partially takes place in Arizona. Thanks for calling this movie and actor to my attention, Ruth!


    • I can see why a person such as your husband would be reluctant to see a silent film about cattle ranching…but the Brown Eyes cow is just sooo cute! If you are able to see this one, let me know what you think about the Arizona landscape that’s portrayed in the film.


  7. This is a lovely film! I watched it a year ago and kept thinking it could be much longer. I also defined it as “the love story between a lonely boy and a cow”. And what can I say about Buster’s Gish-like smile? Priceless.
    Thanks for the kind comment!


  8. I think I saw this a million years ago, but will revisit soon now that you’ve reminded me how much fun it is. I remember the China Shop schtick clearly and loved it. Loved again when done in For Pete’s Sake starring Streisand. Ever see that? Anyway – enjoyable read as always. I’m quitting my job just so I can live here. 🙂



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