THE BALLOONATIC || 1923, USA || Comedy || Directed by – Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton / Written by – Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton / Produced by – Joseph M. Schenck / Music by – John Pattison / Cinematography – Elgin Lessley / Starring – Buster Keaton, Phyllis Haver, Babe London / Running time: 22 mins.
In 1923, Buster Keaton had made his feature debut Three Ages and one of his masterworks, Our Hospitality. Along with them, he was also required by contract to make two short films. This is a testimony to the type of workload slapstick comedians of the time were contractually required to do. But by this point, Keaton had reached a height in popularity that was quite parallel to his talent. Therefore, despite him having to be prolific, even a film that is not as well rounded by a traditional storyline with a beginning, a middle and a plot, even an apparently throwaway film like The Balloonatic is quite fun and entertaining.
Here, he plays an amusement park attendent who, through a series of silly predicaments, finds himself on a runaway baloon ride and then in the middle of the woods. There is also an understated romantic subplot with a woman, who seems to be far more cut out for life in the wild than our hero. But this is quite marginal to a film in which the plot is driven forward by a rapidfire succession of gags.
The quality of the sequences, in a technical sense is evident, and shows that Keaton was indeed an institution that could afford himself the luxury of higher production costs. Out of these, the pivotal baloon ride the title directly refers to is the obvious stand out moment. Essentially, however, it is also clear that he was quite comfortable in his distinctive comedic persona, and it is his character that acts as the glueing agent to the looseness of the film. – 4/5