A dazzling comedy, Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality recasts the regionally feuding Hatfields and McCoys as the Canfields and the McKays in early nineteenth-century Kentucky. In 1810, a McKay and a Canfield one night shoot each other to death; to protect him, McKay’s widow takes away their infant son, Willie (played by Buster Keaton, Jr.), to New York. At 21, Willie inherits his parents’ house; by this time his mother is deceased. His aunt warns him that returning to Kentucky means risking the wrath of the Canfields, but the boy is urged on by his fantasy that his parents’ home, a shack, is a mansion—a reactionary romanticizing of the past, ironically, that parallels the underpinnings of the feud. In a coach onboard the southbound train, Willie meets Virginia Canfield (played by Natalie Talmadge, Keaton’s wife), who, unaware that he is a member of the family that her family has sworn to kill, invites him home to dinner. Well, he had better stay in Virginia’s house (which is a mansion) as long as he can, because the “code” of Southern hospitality prohibits killing anyone who is currently a guest in one’s home.
Keaton packs the film with funny stuff. When he sees the pitiful piece of property he has inherited, for example, we get to see what is going down in Willie’s mind: a shot of his hoped-for mansion blowing up. But there are incredibly beautiful shots as well, such as an overhead one that tracks Willie’s head rising from a river and breaking the surface of the water: a metaphor for his coming into his own.
Willie thrillingly rescues Virginia from a deadly waterfall (Keaton nearly lost his life performing the stunt), and their wedding signifies the reconciliation of the warring families.
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