Buster Keaton struggles to keep his balance with hurricane winds blowing

Directed by               Charles F. Reisner, Buster Keaton
Produced by             Joseph Schenck, Buster Keaton
Scenario by               Carl Harbaugh          
Based on                    a screen story by Carl Harbaugh
Starring                     Buster Keaton, Ernest Torrence, Marion Byron, Tom McGuire, Tom Lewis
Cinematography       Dev Jennings and Bert Haines
Distributed by           United Artists
Release date               May 12, 1928
Running time             67 min.
Country                      United States
Language                    Silent film, English intertitles

"Steamboat Bill, Jr." is part of our series "Other Favorite Films".  This category includes films that do not feature a particular star from our site, but which in our view represent a major contribution of a silent movie to the Arts and Culture of the world.   

"Steamboat Bill, Jr." is a classic Buster Keaton comedy.  It was the last film produced independently by Buster Keaton, who was forced to become a part of MGM, a move that destroyed his creativity and ended his amazing string of short and feature comedy masterpieces that he created for almost a whole decade.   

Steamboat Bill (Ernest Torrence) is the grumpy captain of an old river boat, who faces uncertain future when the richest man in town (Tom McGuire) builds a modern steamship.  One day Steamboat Bill gets the news that his son (Buster Keaton) will pay him a visit.  Steamboat Bill, who hasn't seen his son since he was a baby, expects to meet a big and strong man like himself, but is sorely disappointed to see what appears to be a short weakling. 

Steamboat Bill, Jr., however, gradually earns the respect of his father.  When Steamboat Bill ends up in jail for defying an order banning his unsafe ship, Junior makes a daring attempt to bring tools to prison so that his father can break free from his cell.  The attempt is a failure and Junior gets hit on the head and sent to hospital.  Then a terrible storm hits town with hurricane winds ripping off buildings and sending them flying into the air.  Steamboat Bill, Jr. has the chance to prove that size is not what matters in a man, but strength and courage.

The film contains probably the single most dangerous stunt of the Silent Era and of the history of film-making.  The entire facade of a 2-story house falls on top of Buster Keaton, who survives thanks to standing exactly in the way of an open window.  This was all real without camera tricks and he could have been killed if his position was off by a few inches.  Buster Keaton had many problems at the time: his marriage was collapsing and he knew that after this film he would lose his independence, all of which may have played a part in his decision to attempt this stunt.  It is said that film crew members left the scene fearing a possible disaster.  Fortunately all ended well and we have another Buster Keaton masterpiece.

"Steamboat Bill, Jr." is ranked number 24 in the list of The Top 100 Silent Era Films of the influential website Silent Era.


In 2016 the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

The film has an outstanding rating in IMDB.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) on IMDb



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   Ernest Torrence and Buster Keaton