Combining amiable slapstick and atmosphere, Buster Keaton’s comical western, Go West, follows Friendless, Keaton’s character, as he hops trains both east and west, leaving his small town in Indiana, in hopes of finding a job. The earnest youth suffers from low “social standing,” which taxes employment prospects in the Land of Opportunity. The cut from him in his low-key hometown to his appearance in New York City is hilarious: Friendless, face down on the pavement in New York City, is repeatedly run over by oblivious swarms of pedestrians’ feet hurrying in either direction. What chance does he have amidst this “hustle and bustle”?
Friendless “goes west,” exiting involuntarily the train he has hopped when the barrel in which he is hiding—one of a pyramid of stacked barrels—rolls out the car door. Packing the derringer he found inside a lady’s lost purse in the city, Friendless lands a job on a struggling cattle ranch, where he goes hungry by repeatedly arriving late to the bunkhouse table following the clang announcing mealtime. On balance, though, his ingenuity helps him meet the challenges that his alien job poses. And he is not yet done with trains. It is he who eventually takes the cattle to Los Angeles for slaughter—this, after befriending Brown Eyes, the sweet cow who has assuaged his loneliness. Dressed in a red devil’s garment, Friendless attracts a stampede like the earlier human one on the other coast. Capitalism is the devil’s work, and any other animal than Brown Eyes might have been the boon companion that Friendless must sacrifice to earn a paycheck and survive. But, for the moment, the viewer may be laughing too hard to process the biting satire hidden, as if in a barrel, in this formally brilliant comedy.
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