Got the chance to see this in something like the optimal setting, on a big screen in a darkened theater, with live organ accompaniment. I feel like this was only the second viewing, but it’s kind of a testament to the raw power of the film’s imagery that many scenes played out exactly as I remembered them. Many people consider this tale of a stolen locomotive and the numerous chase sequences carried out in pursuit of it to be Keaton’s masterpiece. I’m a Steamboat Bill Jr. man myself, but that’s not to take away from this film which is certainly a masterpiece. Keaton’s vision is, as always, massive and he shows absolute mastery of his craft here. Keaton was always able to completely master his body and make it do anything he wanted it to do, but here he is able to pull off gags requiring split second timing while using machinery weighing several tons. There are moments in the film where you wonder just how many times they had to try these things before they got them right. There’s a brilliant scene where the camera shows the pursuing train catch up to the last car on Keaton’s train; a guy climbs out on the cow-catcher and then leaps onto the car; the camera does an immediate whip pan to Keaton pulling the connector on that car, separating it from his train. These shots are the kind of things that would use some CGI to cover the cracks in a modern action film, but back in 1926, the closest they had to CGI was timing. It really is an amazing movie. It’s often hilariously funny and just as often jaw-droppingly well-executed. There’s a brilliant bit involving Keaton attempting to fire a cannon at another train; a great bit with an appearing-disappearing-appearing train car; and a really wonderful bit of the train rolling through a huge battle without Keaton ever realizing it – this one just goes on and on until you’re just holding your sides and gasping for breath. It’s certainly a masterpiece and I’m glad I got a chance to revisit it. 4 stars.
tl;dr – high-concept action-comedy from the silent era holds up as both hilariously funny and jaw-droppingly well-executed; Buster Keaton remains a talent for the ages. 4 stars.