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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

The Saphead (1920)
(2022 Special Edition)


Starring: Buster Keaton, William H. Crane and Beulah Booker
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £21.99


Certificate: U
Release Date: 22 August 2022

Eureka Entertainment release Buster Keaton's first starring movie, The Saphead, on the Masters of Cinema label. The movie is given a 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a restoration undertaken by the Cohen Film Collection from a first generation nitrate print. Keaton stars as Bertie Van Alstyne, the pampered son of a powerful Wall Street financier (William H. Crane). Having known no other lifestyle but privilege, he wanders through a variety of misadventures - an attempt at courtship, a trip to an illegal gambling den, and a tumble onto the floor of the Stock Exchange - oblivious to the obstacles that stand before him...

While not remembered fondly as one of Buster Keaton's finest movies, The Saphead is important for the sole reason that it was his first starring film. Unlike in later years, where he crafted his art and embodied the now famous onscreen persona, The Saphead sees Keaton playing a character lifted straight from the script. For that reason many of his fans may come away feeling disappointed that it's not the sort of movie they normally associate with the star.

The movie comes with a score by Andrew Earle Simpson; a new audio commentary with film historian and writer David Kalat; a new video essay by David Cairns (21 min, 49 sec); Complete alternate version of The Saphead, comprised entirely of variant takes and camera angles; A Pair of Sapheads (7 min, 21 sec featurette comparing the two versions of the film; The Scribe (1966, dir. John Sebert) (29 min, 44 sec. In his last film role - produced to promote Construction site safety - Keaton plays a janitor who in his attempt to educate workers on safe practices, causes more accidents than he prevents. It comes with optional, previously unheard, audio commentary with director John Sebert (recorded before his death in 2015) and writer / silent cinema aficionado Chris Seguin.

There are also a number of interviews: Buster Keaton in conversation with Kevin Brownlow (a 2-hour audio interview with Keaton and film historian Kevin Brownlow from 1964); 1958 Buster Keaton Interview (90 mins); Buster Keaton: Radio Interview – a rarely heard interview with Keaton.

The Blu-ray also comes complete with a collector’s booklet featuring new essays by journalist Philip Kemp and film writer Imogen Sara Smith, as well as an appreciation of The Saphead by film writer Eileen Whitfield.

It's an interesting movie and the inclusion of The Scribe is almost worth the price alone. While not a great short film, by any stretch of the imagination, The Scribe was Keaton's final performance. So this release charts his beginning and final curtain performances.


Darren Rea

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