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Railrodder, The (1965)

No, I actually don't know what a rodder is either...
No, I actually don't know what a rodder is either...

Genre: Comedy Short (Canada)

Starring: Buster Keaton

Directed By: Gerald Potterton (Heavy Metal; "The Smoggies")

Overview: A man decides to visit Canada. When he arrives, he decides to cross it on a small railcar.


The DVD pictured above includes the 24-minute short where Keaton is up to his regular old antics, but also includes the more fascinating documentary Buster Keaton Rides Again, featuring the production of this project with the director and the National Film Board of Canada. At 70 years of age, Keaton, clearly co-directing, insists that the stunts be more thrilling, be bigger. There's one scene in particular where Keaton is travelling along a high bridge with a huge map in his face as his railcar dangerously speeds along. The director originally had Keaton merely hanging his wet laundry on a mini clothesline for fear that the map stunt was too much of a hazard. In the documentary, Keaton angrily clarifies that it's nowhere near as funny, and besides it's even more dangerous doing the laundry stunt, since he's slipping around in the water that's dripping off the clothes. Keaton is certainly a feisty dude, and completely fearless. No, Keaton isn't as 'on' as he was in his hey-day, but he gives as much of himself as he ever did.
Rating: 8


Were it up to me, I'd have asked the editor a couple of questions, hoping he could explain his occasional ineptitude: an easily rectified continuity error here, a wonky camera angle there. Overall though, there's still train stunts like close calls with oncoming engines or Keaton oblivious to a rotating bridge as he fiddles with his railcar. And besides, we see all of Canada!
Rating: 7


As it was with the silent era, the script is similar here. We have some exciting music playing as he rockets along, or some lazy slow tunes when Keaton runs into some engine trouble. Every word is expressed in pantomime and there's not even one intertitle, something rare even back in the 20s.
Rating: 7


It's thin, sure, but what slapstick isn't? It's a two-reeler based on one gag. That's what he was about. Actually there's another gag besides the one of him crossing the country, it's the 'big box of supplies' he carries, that includes hotplates for cooking, food, clothes, even a spot of tea. Was I hoping for a little more? Maybe just a smidge.
Rating: 6


It's like this was made for me. By that I also mean this might be geared towards a mighty specific demographic. If you're a lover of Buster Keaton, then you'll find this a nice cute was of wrapping up his career. If you're Canadian, then you get the added bonus of seeing Keaton in your country, playing around with CN Rail, the stuff of childhood. Is The Railrodder full of belly-splitting gags? Not quite. This is more for completists.
Rating: 7

Still a media junkie
Still a media junkie

Overall Rating: 70% (Chuggin' Along...)

Slapstick doesn't change, but Keaton definitely did, and without that documentary I can safely say I would not have enjoyed this anywhere near as much. I've mostly only studied The Great Stoneface from his prime. Learning of his alcoholism, his divorces and the abandonment of his children came to a great surprise to me. Before his death however, he did come to see the revival of his silent films. It sure must be nice knowing you're a star again. We should all be so lucky.

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