Sherlock Jnr. is a silent film directed by and starring the inestimable Buster Keaton and distributed by MGM. Here’s the basic plot: Buster Keaton’s character is a movie reel operator and a wannabe detective. He visits the woman he loves and while he’s there, another suitor of the same woman frames him of stealing that woman’s father’s watch. The crestfallen Keaton returns to the movie theatre, where he falls asleep after running a reel. He then dreams that he enters the movie screen.

What ensues is a wildly surrealistic scene, in the movie, in the dream, in which he passes from location to location within the movie screen. (It’s hard to explain, but there is a train passing through an empty dessert, and the like.) Next, he enters the plot of the movie, which closely resembles his real-life situation, except that he is a dashing, brilliant detective who successfully apprehends the real thief (a rival suitor) and wins his love. Then he awakes, to find that his love has discovered his innocence. Hesitant and minor kisses and embraces ensue.

The film is, I would venture, an enduring one. For one thing, it is extremely sparing in its dialogue. (Like all silent films, it uses occasional on-screen flashes of text to indicate conversation, but it uses these more sparingly than many films of the same era.) This is wonderful, as in so many movies the dialogue is an unnecessary and annoying accompaniment to an obvious plot. The humor is a fluid combination of slapstick- as I watched this movie a young child, perhaps 7 year olds, was laughing hysterically and loudly- and wit- such as one item at the end of the film where a confused and pure-minded Keaton, awake from his dream and now watching the movie, takes cues from the on-screen characters’ embrace and does the same with his love. Also the surrealism and even Freudianism worked in are impressive. A wonderful film.

A very good (as well as apt) score for this film was written and composed by the The Club Foot Orchestra.