KEATON: The Man Who Wouldn't Lie Down by Tom Dardis

KEATON: The Man Who Wouldn't Lie Down

Email this review


Though severely handicapped by Dardis' lifeless prose, this is a well-researched and well-intentioned biography of the great unsmiling comedian/filmmaker; if it never probes very deeply, it does provide more nitty-gritty detail than Rudi Blesh's livelier 1966 study. Dardis leans heavily on Keaton's vaudeville childhood--the constant battering from his drunken father (on and off stage) that perhaps led to the ""Great Stone Face"" that showed no feeling. When the Three Keatons roadshow broke up in 1917, Buster was invited to do some film bits by doomed pal Fatty Arbuckle, and--according to one of Dardis' many banal generalizations--""he fell helplessly in love with every aspect of filmmaking."" Soon Buster was busy in silents, moved to Hollywood (""Buster loved everything about California""), and began devoting himself to the 20 features and two-reelers on which his reputation rests: Dardis examines the masterpieces with diligent admiration but without a flicker of eloquence, taking a few facile stabs at analyzing the disturbing, existential undercurrent in Keaton. On the other hand, Dardis keeps a shrewd eye on studio finances and their effect on artistic independence (Buster was never a box-office bonanza)--and his close study of Keaton's sound films is welcome, especially since it gives rise to a convincing debunking of the idea that Keaton was simply unfit for talkies: according to Dardis, ""The destruction of Buster's career was caused by his worsening alcoholism and his inability to regain control over the kind of pictures in which he appeared."" And sufficient quiet attention is given to Buster's woman troubles (two weird wives), drinking, shyness, childishness, and his decline into gag-writing, bit-part playing, and reluctant semi-retirement. No genuine personal drama emerges, however; the real story is in the films themselves, and others (like Walter Kerr) have explored them far more vividly.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1979
Publisher: Scribners