This spiffy edition of Keaton’s comedy shorts belies their unevenness. After a decade of alcoholism and financial struggle, the deadpan comic made 10 short films for producer Jules White, who also supervised the Three Stooges. White’s school of humor is terminally lowbrow: Objects fall on heads and feet, accompanied by loud thwacks and bonks. White didn’t trust Keaton solo, so there are regular foils to back him up. The most notable is rubber-faced, fearlessly knock-about clown Ames, who tackles shrews and goo-goo-eyed women equally well and who, in two hours, helped Keaton choreograph a rare dance number, soft-shoeing with his feet in spittoons. Most of the shorts were shot in three days, and sometimes White (who directed eight of them) lards the slim plots with too many crashes and pratfalls. Keaton handles the slapstick with great agility, but he was also a master of subtler humor that only occasionally finds an outlet here.
All have good commentaries from a variety of experts who provide insight into the medium (eventually abandoned as double features became popular) and the way comedians stole from one another: Bits here are filched from Lloyd, Fields, Laurel & Hardy, and Keaton’s own silents, and were later pirated for the Stooges. A short doc on Keaton outlines his career with excellent clips; we also learn that he was a master of the ukulele.