College is a 1927 film starring Buster Keaton directed officially by James Horne (but in fact by Buster Keaton himself). It’s one of the films of the artist’s early golden period, when he had complete artistic freedom working for United Artists (which he did until 1929).
The plot is as follows. Roland (Buster Keaton) is a brilliant student in love with the beautiful Mary (Anne Cornwall) who, however, rejects him because of his aversion to sports. In fact, she dates Jeff (Harold Goodwin), a classic jock who’s not particularly bright, but he’s physically handsome. After high school, Roland enrolls at Clayton College in order to be with her. However, he must work to finance his studies, and he also becomes an athlete to conquer her. Well, let’s say that he tries to work and to become an athlete: baseball, pole vault, long jump… he seems unable to do anything!
The film is a series of comic sketches with Buster Keaton attempting athletic feats and and failing dramatically. He also fails in his studies, as we discover in a dialogue with the impassive Dean (Snitz Edwards) who shows his soft side with Roland. Anyway, Roland doesn’t fail in the main task: saving his beloved from Jeff’s clutches, in a finale in which he proves to be an all-round athlete by running, jumping obstacles and even pole jumping (one of the few stunts not done by Keaton himself)!
The film is still hilarious today. Super-dynamic, it’s not boring at all and it’s only an hour long, the right amount of time to develop a simple story and offer a lot of great slapstick comedy. There’s also some subtler irony in several places, as in Roland’s speech against sport made by Buster Keaton who, in reality, was an exceptionally athlete! The construction of the scenes is, especially in the central part, a bit repetitive (an athlete does something perfectly, then Keaton follows and fails: repeat the formula x times), but I was impressed by some scenes, for example when slow motion is used as a special effect of the fall slowed by the open umbrella.
I was struck by how some things still sound very relevant a century later like the scene of Jeff practically kidnapping Mary to get her expelled from college. This is none less than gender-based violence and it’s not presented in a comical way within the film! Indeed, it’s the emotional core of the whole story and it’s what leads to the happy ending, a happy ending that unusually shows us everything about the love story of the two protagonists, including their actual end.
If you aren’t afraid of a silent black and white film, and you shouldn’t be, I suggest you to look for this little gem to spend an hour having fun admiring Buster Keaton at work not in one of his most famous films, but still one which is worth discovering. Ciao!