Our Hospitality is a 1923 silent comedy film directed by and starring Buster Keaton. Released by Metro Pictures Corporation, the film uses slapstick and situational comedy to tell the story of Willie McKay, who gets caught in the middle of the infamous "Canfield"–"McKay" feud, an obvious satire of the real-life Hatfield–McCoy feud.
Poster for the film
|Directed by||Buster Keaton|
John G. Blystone
|Produced by||Joseph M. Schenck|
|Written by||Clyde Bruckman|
Joseph A. Mitchell
Joseph M. Schenck Productions
|Distributed by||Joseph M. Schenck Productions|
Metro Pictures Corporation
|74 minutes (7 reels)|
It was a groundbreaking work for the comedy film genre, as Keaton included "careful integration of gags into a dramatically coherent storyline", "meticulous attention to period detail" and "beautiful cinematography and extensive location shooting". This was a contrast to the usual slapstick comedies of this era. Turner Classic Movies describes Our Hospitality as a "silent film for which no apologies need be made to modern viewers" and Roger Ebert considered it Keaton's first masterpiece.
The Canfield and McKay families have been feuding for so long, no one remembers the reason the feud started in the first place. One stormy night in 1810, family patriarch John McKay and his rival James Canfield kill each other. After the tragic death of her husband, John's wife decides her son Willie will not suffer the same fate. She moves to New York to live with her sister, who after the mother's death raises him without telling him of the feud.
Twenty years later, Willie receives a letter informing him that his father's estate is now his. His aunt tells him of the feud, but he decides to return to his Southern birthplace anyway to claim his inheritance. On the train ride, he meets a girl, Virginia. They are shy to each other at first, but become acquainted during many train mishaps. At their destination, she is greeted by her father and two brothers; she, it turns out, is a Canfield. Willie innocently asks one of the brothers where the McKay estate is. The brother offers to show him the way, but stops at every shop in search of a pistol to shoot the unsuspecting Willie. By the time he obtains one, Willie has wandered off. Willie is very disappointed to discover the McKay "estate" is a rundown home, not the stately mansion he had imagined. Later, however, he encounters Virginia, who invites him to supper.
When he arrives, the brothers want to shoot him, but the father refuses to allow it while he is a guest in their mansion. The father refers to this as "our hospitality". When Willie overhears a conversation between the brothers, he finally realizes his grave predicament. A parson comes to supper as well. Afterward, the parson prepares to leave, but he finds it is raining furiously. The Canfield patriarch insists the parson stay the night. McKay invites himself to do the same.
The next morning, McKay stays inside the house, while the Canfield men wait for his departure. The father catches McKay kissing his daughter. McKay finally manages to leave safely by putting on a woman's dress. However, a chase ensues. He eventually starts down a steep cliff side, but is unable to find a way to the bottom. One Canfield lowers a rope (so he can get a better shot) to which Willie ties himself, but the Canfield falls into the water far below, dragging Willie along. Finally, Willie manages to steal the train locomotive and tender, but the tender derails, dumping him into the river towards the rapids. Virginia spots him and goes after him in a rowboat; she falls into the water and is swept over the edge of the large waterfall. McKay swings trapeze-like on a rope, catching her hands in mid-fall and depositing her safely on a ledge.
When it grows dark, the Canfield men decide to continue their murderous search the next day. Returning home, they see Willie and Virginia embracing; Joseph Canfield furiously rushes into the room, gun in hand. He is brought up short by the parson, who asks him if he wishes to kiss the bride. Seeing a hanging "love thy neighbor" sampler, the father decides to bless the union and end the feud. The Canfields place their pistols on a table; Willie then divests himself of the many guns he took from their gun cabinet.
- Buster Keaton as Willie McKay
- Joe Roberts as Joseph Canfield
- Natalie Talmadge as Virginia Canfield
- Ralph Bushman as Clayton Canfield
- Craig Ward as Lee Canfield
- Monte Collins as The Parson
- Joe Keaton as The Locomotive Engineer
- Jack Duffy as The Locomotive Leader
- Kitty Bradbury as Aunt Mary
- Jean Dumas as Mother McKay
- Edward Coxen as Father John McKay
- Tom London as James Canfield
- Buster Keaton Jr. as Willie McKay (1 year old)
- Erwin Connelly as Husband Quarreling with Wife (uncredited)
Although the original Hatfield-McCoy feud happened between 1878 and 1890, Keaton set his film in the 1830s. Keaton had a passion for railroads and wanted the story to coincide with their invention. Keaton had art director Fred Grabourne build fully functional replicas of trains with attention to every detail of their authenticity. However Keaton chose not to use the early US DeWitt Clinton engine and instead had Grabourne build a replica of Stephenson's Rocket because he thought it looked funnier. He also employed a dandy horse which, by the 1830s, would have been out of fashion. The traveling shots of the locomotive are clear precursors to later work on The General (1926) and were shot in the same Oregon locations.
Keaton cast his wife Natalie Talmadge in the lead role of Virginia, directing her to play her part as an old fashioned southern belle as well as an innocent schoolgirl. He also cast his father Joe Keaton as a grouchy train engineer and Joe Roberts as Virginia's father. The film was shot in Truckee, 300 miles north of Los Angeles, and was decorated to re-create Shenandoah Valley in the 1830s. The cast and crew arrived in Truckee in July 1923. They included a crew of 20 people, the fully functional locomotive, three railroad passenger cars, 30 set pieces and enough building material to build them several miles of train track. As was normal for a Keaton production, the cast and crew often stopped shooting to play baseball or fish for Truckee salmon and trout when the opportunity arose.
Roberts suffered a stroke on set during shooting. After a short hospital stay in Reno, he returned to finish his role in the film but died of another stroke a few months later. Keaton, who never used a stunt double, nearly drowned in the Truckee River while filming one of his stunts. While filming a scene in the rapids of a river his restraining wire broke and he fell into the rocky river. It took ten minutes for the crew to find him lying face down and not moving on a riverbank. He recovered but he decided to shoot the rest of the river scene on a set in Los Angeles. He also shot a waterfall scene on a set using miniature scenery. However Keaton did perform the dangerous stunt in which he swings from a rope to the waterfall. Keaton cast his fourteen-month-old son to play a baby version of him in the film's prologue. The bright film lights irritated the infants eyes and he had to be removed from the set.
This is the only film to feature three generations of the Keaton family: Keaton himself, his father Joe and his infant son. Keaton's wife Natalie was pregnant with their second child during filming, and late in the production she had to be filmed to hide her growing size.
The film premiered on November 3, 1923 and was released on November 19, 1923. Keaton's previous film Three Ages was released while Our Hospitality was in post-production and was a big hit in both the US and Europe, breaking box office records in some individual cities. Originally titled Hospitality, it was another hit film for Keaton, selling out many theaters and grossing $537,844, almost $100,000 more than Three Ages.
Critics at the time were generally positive. Variety wrote: "This is an unusual comedy picture, a novelty melange of dramatics, low comedy, laughs and thrills. Jean Havez has built up a comedy masterpiece about as serious a subject as a feud. (...) The picture is splendidly cast, flawlessly directed and intelligently photographed. The usual low comedy and slapstick have been modified and woven into a consistent story that is as funny as it is entertaining." Time was also positive: "The Keatons, four of them, combine to make this picture highly hilarious." A San Francisco Call review called Keaton "a comedian, dramatic actor and acrobat par excellence" and Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times praised Talmadge's performance.
Our Hospitality has remained one of Keaton's acclaimed works, holding an average rating of 9.0 at Rotten Tomatoes with 96% positive reviews. Dave Kehr wrote: "With this work, Keaton began to display a dramatic sense to complement his comic sensibility—like The General, it is built with the integrity of a high-adventure story. Of course, Keaton still finds room for his inimitable sight gags and beloved gadgets, here including an early steam locomotive that pulls its carriage train up and down the hills of Pennsylvania with a lovely reptilian grace." Leonard Maltin calls it a "sublime silent comedy, one of Buster's best, with a genuinely hair-raising finale." (four/four stars).
Jim Emerson wrote: "Our Hospitality is Keaton's first feature as auteur and his first masterpiece. It isn't his fastest, funniest or most dazzlingly inventive picture, but it is my sentimental favorite because of its serene, nostalgic beauty -- a vision of a halcyon world (America, circa 1830) that was already, of course, charmingly old-fashioned by 1923 standards. "Our Hospitality" (co-directed by Keaton and Jack Blystone) displays some magnificent pictorial compositions, worthy of John Ford (...) What is first viewed through the frame is not always what it appears to be. But these aren't just tricks or sight gags (though they're often really funny); they are the very fabric of Keaton's constantly transforming cosmos. What a marvelous place it is."
Our Hospitality has been adapted into numerous Indian films.The first being the 2002 Kannada movie Balagaalittu Olage Baa. A Telugu film adaptation, titled Maryada Ramanna, was released in 2010. This film was remade in Hindi as S.O.S.-Son Of Sardar and in Kannada as Maryade Ramanna. It was subsequently remade into a Bengali film, Faande Poriya Boga Kaande Re (2011). A Tamil film remake called Vallavanukku Pullum Aayudham was released in 2014. It was also remade in Malayalam as Ivan Maryadaraman (2015).
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- Staff, Variety (1 January 1923). "Our Hospitality". Variety.com. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
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- Trains Magazine Special Edition No. 5, 2010
- "Vallavanukku Pullum Aayudham". The Times of India. 14 May 2014. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
- "Maryada Ramanna in Japanese". Deccan Chronicle. 5 June 2014. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
- "சுட்ட படம்" [Stolen film]. Ananda Vikatan (in Tamil). 16 May 2016. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
- "Ivan Maryadaraman". Sify. 5 April 2015. Retrieved 24 May 2017.