Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Buster Keaton Story (1957) - Film Location

Donald O'Connor as Buster Keaton & Ann Blyth

I've read many negative things about the bio film, The Buster Keaton Story (1957), but as a Keaton fan, I figured I needed to see the film once to judge for myself. To be fair, the film isn't awful, it is mildly entertaining, but the story really isn't about Buster Keaton at all. The story is almost entirely fictionalized, with only a few traces of Keaton's life worked in. If the filmmakers were trying to make Keaton's story more dramatic, they didn't need to fictionalize anything - Keaton's true story was pretty tragic already. 

To me the most satisfying thing about watching this film had nothing to do with Buster at all, it was spotting one of the buildings on the Paramount Studios lot that was also used as a set in the classic film, Sunset Boulevard (1950). In the screenshot at the top and and the screenshot below, Donald O'Connor, who portrays Keaton, is seen with the fictional studio exec Gloria Brent, played by Ann Blyth, in front of the offices of "Famous Studio." That office building with the exterior stairs is actually the "Dreier" building on the Paramount Studios lot.

O'Connor and Blyth with the Dreier building at left.

The Dreier building on the Paramount Studios lot.

Rhonda Fleming passes the Dreier building at Paramount.

In the screenshot above Rhonda Fleming, who plays Peggy Courtney in The Buster Keaton Story, walks past the Dreier building. Seven years earlier, we see in the screenshot below, William Holden and Erich von Sroheim in a scene from Sunset Boulevard in front of the Dreier building. In Sunset Boulevard, the Dreier building appears a couple times in the film. The first appearance is when von Stroheim drives Holden and Gloria Swanson to the Paramount Studios lot to visit Cecil B. Demille. The second appearance is when Holden visits the Dreier building late at night to secretly work on a script with Nancy Olson.

William Holden & Erich von Stroheim in front of the Dreier building.

Jim Parsons as "Sheldon" on the television show
"The Big Bang Theory"

Buster Keaton lived a very interesting life, filled with dramatic ups and downs, and it is unfortunate that no one has made a great film about this filmmaker icon. One of my favorite bio pics is the 1992 film, Chaplin, directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin. That film was so beautifully shot, had a stellar cast and a score that transported viewers to the Chaplin era. I wish that Buster Keaton could have such a film made about his life.

One challenge would be finding an actor around today that could portray Keaton. Every time I see the deadpan expressions made by Emmy winning comedy star Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon on the hit TV show "The Big Bang Theory," I instantly think of Keaton. Although, Parsons might be a little tall, I think his look is spot on. What do you think? Who do you think would make a good Buster?

Your thoughts?

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