The Law of Contact

Steamboat Bill Jr. (May 20, 1928)

Buster Keaton in Steamboat Bill Jr.

Released May 20, 1928: Buster Keaton is a mama's boy that visits his rough, tough, steamboat captain father, who tries to turn him into a man.

Directed by Charles Reisner and Buster Keaton

The Actors: Buster Keaton (William Canfield Jr.), Tom McGuire (J.J. King), Ernest Torrence (William 'Steamboat Bill' Canfield), Tom Lewis (Tom Carter, the first and last mate), Marion Byron (Kitty King, old man King's daughter), James T. Mack (the minister)


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Joseph Frank 'Buster' Keaton, VI was born in 1895 to show business royalty. His parents were successful comedians touring the world with Harry Houdini, the famous magician. Just as motion pictures were being invented he was coming of age, and he made his first comedy motion picture short in 1913 called, "The Gangsters." By 1928 when he filmed this picture he was established as a master of motion picture comedy. He was making picture for United Artists, and he always had control of the plot and gags, but this was the last picture that United Artists allowed him to control. So he moved to MGM, and made "The Cameraman", but after that he lost creative control also, and his movies from then on were written and directed by studio people that were not under his direct control.

This classic comedy starts with two steamboats in our small Mississippi River town. There is the old "Stonewall Jackson" an old, worn-out paddle-wheel steamboat run by rough and tough William 'Steamboat Bill' Canfield. But Mr. King, the richest man in town builds a big new fancy steamboat and aims to put Steamboat Bill out of business. Next we discover that Steamboat Bill has a telegram from his wife in Boston who he hasn't seen for 28 years. His son, who he also has not seen since he was a baby, is coming to visit and learn the Steamboat business. Dad is proud as punch that his boy is coming, and is sure he will be as rough and tough as good old Dad, and together they will build their steamboat business.

Alas, when young Bill Jr. arrives, he is not a rough and tough man-of-men, but a ukulele carrying, city slicker mama's boy. The same day, wealthy King's pretty daughter Kitty arrives in town. When Steamboat Bill's first mate sees how effeminate Bill Jr. is, he triest to make him more 'manly' by getting him new clothes, smashing his ukulele, and taking him to a barber shop to have his llittle moustache shaved off. While he is sitting in the barber chair, he sees Kitty in the next chair getting her hair trimmed, and when they see each other, they each jump out of their barber chairs and hug each other. It seems that they knew each other in Boston and are sweet on each other. They try to be together, but their fathers are bitter enemies, and it doesn't look like love will bloom for them. The last fifteen minutes has some of Buster's most famous and amazing physical comedy stunts, that have been copied by many since, including a magic trick that he may have 'borrowed' from Harry Houdini.

Will Steamboat Bill Jr. learn the rough and tumble ways of an old river boat captain? Will Steamboat Bill Jr. keep his city slicker ways, instead? Will Kitty and Bill Jr. get together, or will their papa's keep them apart? Will papa King have Steamboat Bill put in jail? Will Bill Jr. break him out of jail, or get put in jail with him? Will you have enough popcorn to last for an hour and nine minutes of laughter and tears? Why the heck is there a minister listed with the cast of characters? And finally, who the heck is playing that organ?