Go West (1925)

Film Review

GO WEST

Release Date: 1 November 1925

Studio: MGM

Director: Buster Keaton, assisted by Lex Neal

Starring: Buster Keaton, Kathleen Myers, Howard Truesdale

Writers: Buster Keaton; Lex Neal, assistant writer; Raymond Cannon, scenario

Cinematography: Elgin Lessley, Bert Haines

Synopsis

The film opens on a statue of Horace Greely, pointing to his right, the pedestal is inscribed: GO WEST YOUNG MAN, GO WEST.

In an Indiana town, Friendless (Keaton) alone and unwanted, sells all his possessions for $1.65. He removes several articles from a drawer, including a picture of his mother, and has to pay the storekeeper for them. He is left with pennies after buying bread and salami. He sits and pets a dog; it walks away. In the train yard, he hops a freight car labeled New York Central. In the city, the crowds push him back and forth and finally knock him down and step on him. Returning to the freight yards, he visualizes the statue of Horace Greeley and looks at the cars until he finds one labeled Atchison,Topeka & SanteFe. The car is filled with barrels. He crawls into a barrel; eventually, the barrel rolls off the train. Friendless looks around. He has reached the west, a treeless land with wide views toward distant mountains.

Meanwhile, in a ranch yard, cowboys try to milk the small cow, Brown Eyes, but she does not give milk. She is kicked out of the yard into the herd of beef cattle.

Friendless arrives at the ranch, puts on some discarded cowboy clothes (but keeps his own hat), and takes a job, although he knows nothing about ranching. Sent out to help the cowboys with the cattle, he and his saddle fall off his mule, and he walks to the herd. Frightened by the cattle, he hides under a small tree. Brown Eyes limps by. He pats her and removes a stone from her hoof. Walking to the cattle, Friendless' foot becomes stuck in a hole. As he is attempting to extricate himself, a bull charges. Brown Eyes steps in front of Friendless and stops the bull. Friendless pets her and raises his hat in thanks. Brown Eyes follows after him. Friendless has a friend.

Friendless is incompetent at ranch work, he cannot rope, ride, or round up cattle.. The cowboys laugh at his attempts to get the cattle into a corral. They tell him to wave something red at the cattle, and they will come to him. He cannot even get to meals on time, but he keeps trying. The daughter of the ranch owner takes a liking to him. When she gets a splinter, she calls him to take it out.

The Ranchman decides that he must ship his cattle to market or face ruin. A neighboring rancher, holding out for a better price, protests the early sale, but the Ranchman is determined to sell. The Rancher says that Brown Eyes must go too, despite Friendless' protest. He attempts to buy her but does not have enough money. The girl is about to give him the money when he rides off in the cattle car with Brown Eyes.

The train is held up by the neighboring rancher, his cowboys take off the engineer and stoker. All the Ranch's cowboys, including Friendless, get off to fight for the cattle. The train starts moving and Friendless climbs aboard. He is the only person on the train.

Friendless stops the train in town and takes out Brown Eyes to run off with her. However, realizing that the Rancher needs to sell the cattle, Friendless releases them and tries to herd them to the stock yards. The cattle, wandering into stores, startle people. Friendless dresses in a devil's outfit, and the cattle chase him, a large, red-colored object, into the stock yard pens.

The ranch owner and his daughter drive up and find the cattle safely delivered. The rancher is so grateful that he offers Friendless anything he wants. He wants Brown Eyes. Friendless, Brown Eyes, the girl, and the ranchman get in the car and drive back to the ranch.

Discussion

Keaton places his character in a Western setting and runs through a series of comic, western-oriented routines featuring Keaton's determination to be a cowboy. The plot emphasizes the mutual attachment of Keaton and the cow, Brown Eyes. Only a few gags utilize Keaton's acrobatic prowess.

Rejected in the east, Keaton tries the west. After he falls out of the train, the first vista is a panorama of a vast and nearly empty landscape with mountains in the distance. The openness of the west is contrasted strongly with the previous scenes in his small home town and among the overwhelming crowds of New York. The ranch scenes were filmed in the arid, high desert near Kingman, Arizona.

Keaton is a one-cow cowboy in western garb: vest, necktie, chaps, boots, gun belt and very small gun, everything except a cowboy hat which he rejects in favor of his own distinctive pork pie hat. The cow, Brown Eyes, is his main co-star. The small and rather delicately formed cow contrasts with the larger, heavier beef cattle around it. This contrast is used for visual effect throughout the film.

Western stereotypes are gently used, the rather mild jokes involve Keaton's bumbling attempts to carry out cowboy tasks. He tries to mount and ride a tall mule, brand cattle, win in a poker game (with the tag line, "smile when you say that"), and drive cattle to market.

A series of amusing scenes result from the cattle wandering into various places of business and causing consternation. The propensity of cattle to chase a red object had been introduced earlier in the film, and this trait is used to enable Keaton, alone and on foot, to lead the cattle to the stock yards. The color of his outfit is not visible in black and white film, of course, but the audience knows that a devil's suit is red and can imagine the color.

Most of the realistic-looking city streets were constructed on the Metro Studio lot where a small herd of cattle could be better controlled than in actual city streets. The Metro Studio was across the street from Keaton's Studio in Hollywood.