Free & Easy is a 1930’s film, kind of a musical comedy, directed by Edward Sedgwick and starring Buster Keaton, Robert Montgomery, Anita Page and Trixie Friganza. This movie was Buster Keaton first talking picture and, unfortunately, it didn’t have a big success and it’s not one of his most well-known films. In fact, his last success was The Cameraman (Edward Sedgwick, 1928). However, I have to admit that Free & Easy is one of my very favourite Buster Keaton’s films. I have seen it so many times and I never get tired to. It’s just a very underrated film that deserves to be better known. For the occasion of the very first Buster Keaton Blogaton hosted by Silent-Ology, I’m going to explain to you why I love this film and why Buster Keaton is great in this film. If you haven’t seen it, I hope my text will make you want to see it and if you have seen it, but didn’t like it, I hope you’ll give it another try!
In Free & Easy, Buster Keaton plays the part of Elmer Butts, Miss Gopher City’s manager. Miss Gopher City’s name is Elvira Plunkett and this part is played by the lovely Anita Page. Elmer, Elvira and Elvira’s mother (who don’t like Elmer very much) are going to Hollywood to make Elvira a star. On the train, they met the famous cinema’s star Larry Mitchell (Robert Montgomery). He invites them the his film premiere and then invites Elvira and her mother to come visit the studio where he works. Here they met the movie director Fred Niblo and Ma Plunckett only wishes he’ll make her dear Elvira a big movie star. However, things turned out differently. The result will be that Elmer and Ma Plunckett will be part of the film, but not Elvira. But she doesn’t mind because she feels like acting is not for her. Larry and Elvira will fall in love together, which is something difficult for Elmer who is also in love with Elvira.
There are many reasons why I love this film. One of them is the very interesting casting. At first, you have our Buster Keaton in his first talking picture. Some people say he is not funny anymore when he talks. I can agree that he is less funny than in some of his early silent films, but for me, he remains funny and unforgettable. If the talking pictures and the public would have given him a chance, he could have continued is career with the success he had. Then, you have Anita Page playing the role of Elvira Plunkett. Anita Page was one of the big stars of the beginning of the talking. In Free & Easy, she is just lovely. Trixie Friganza who plays the part of Ma Plunkett is not a very famous actress, but she is a great surprise in this film. She is a great character actress, funny and with a strong personality. It is interesting to see Robert Montgomery in this type of film knowing that, about ten-fifteen years later he will play in some Noirs such as Rage in Heaven or Lady in the Lake (that he also directed). These are the main actors of the film. But what’s even more interesting in this casting is the short appearance of some great Hollywood personality playing themselves. You have Fred Niblo, William Haines, Lyonel Barrymore, Cecil B. DeMille, Dorothy Sebastian, Jackie Coogan, Karl Dane and many more. It’s nice too see all these personalities together in the same picture. A game you can do when you watch this film is to find out the more Hollywood stars of the 20’s 30’s you can!
Of course, as I said, this was Buster Keaton first talking picture. In my opinion, he has done it right. A very memorable moment is when he sings Free & Easy, the theme song of the film. I mean, what a treat to see Buster sing and dance! And he has done it well, especially the dancing, because we know that Buster Keaton was, at first, an actor of gesture, more than an actor of voice. However, his singing voice (and also his talking voice) is quite convincing and fit perfectly with the character of Elmer Butts. I won’t ask more as I think he did a great job at this level. As I said in the beginning of this text, this film is kind of a musical comedy. Let me explain that: it is, at first, a comedy, but “the movie in the movie”, the one Elmer Butts and Ma Plunkett are starring in, is a musical. So that’s what I mean by saying that Free & Easy was kind of a musical. However, there is not a lot of songs. I think we should take the occasion to watch the Free & Easy song’s clip. That’s worth watching, believe me.
Talking pictures mean screenplay, and screenplay mean lines and dialogues. This is another aspect of the film I liked and that really makes me laugh at some points. If we are not in the silent films anymore, Buster Keaton has to make the audience laugh by talking and not only by moving. There are some quotes in this film that I really love. Some of them are said by Buster Keaton, some other not, but whoever says it, the emotion is always convincing especially with Buster Keaton. He can talk with a voice, but also with his eyes, which is something important. Here are some example of my favourite lines of the film:
1- Elmer: “Oh woe is me, the sqween has quooned.”
2- Ma Plunkett: “I never wanna see your face again, never!”
3- Elmer Butts: “Nice day..
Train Conductor: – Is it?
Elmer Butts:- No, I guess it’s not so good…”
4- Jackie Coogan: “And I want to thank Mr. Wright for having this opening, it’s such an opportun time, because I don’t have any school tomorrow.
5- William Haines: Sorry, I broke my authograph…
6- Ma: “Oh, I’m ashamed to show my face!
Elmer: – I don’t blame you….
Ma: – What’s that?!
Elmer: – Oh! I don’t blame you for being a little upset!”
And many more!
Another thing I like about Buster Keaton in this film is the great chemistry he has with Anita Page. They are just so lovely together and we wish Elvira would understand that Elmer loves her, because that’s one of her imperfections: she is not very clever. Buster Keaton and Trixie Friganza also make together a great pair of enemy. They hate each other, but we can see a sort of complicity between those two characters when they started acting together in the film. Talking about complicity, one of my favourite moments of the film is when Larry Mitchell and Elmer Butts discover they already knew each other before. They both come from Kansas and Larry lived in the same town Elmer’s aunt lived. It’s in moments like this that we can say: that’s a small world! Another funny thing about this scene, is that Buster Keaton really came from Kansas!
Free & Easy is the kind of movie, that, for some persons, you have to see it 2-3 times before appreciate it, but me, I loved it just after the first viewing. Buster Keaton still makes me laugh and still gives us a great performance in this film. I would like more people to see this film and understand why I love it so much. This is also one of the Buster Keaton’s characters I love the most. I mean, this Elmer is just the type of man I would like to be friend with. So, if you have nothing to do this week-end, take the occasion to watch or re-watch Free & Easy by saying to yourself that this is a great film.
Thanks to Silent-Ology for having created this event and make sure to read the other entries: