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I–K Entries
Steve Ihnat
Michael Jackson
Russell Johnson
Tor Johnson
Nathan Juran
Boris Karloff
Buster Keaton
DeForest Kelley
Erle C. Kenton
Val Kilmer
Akira Kubo
Stanley Kubrick
 
KEATON, BUSTER
(Joseph Frank Keaton VI 1895–1966). American actor, director, and writer.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Appeared in: Boom in the Moon [El Moderno Barba Azul] (Jaime Salvador 1946); "The Awakening" (1954), episode of Rheingold Theatre; Around the World in Eighty Days (Michael ANDERSON 1956); "Once Upon a Time" (1961), episode of The Twilight Zone; It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (Stanley Kramer 1963); Pajama Party (Don Weis 1964); Beach Blanket Bingo (William Asher 1965); How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (Asher 1965); Sergeant Dead Head (Norman Taurog 1965).

Appeared in short films that he co-wrote and co-directed with Edward F. Cline: The Haunted House (1921); The Electric House (1922).

Appeared in short films: The Chemist (Al Christie 1936); Mixed Magic (Raymond Kane and Keaton 1936); The Spook Speaks (Jules White 1940); The Triumph of Lester Snapwell (James Calhoun 1963); Film (short) (Alan Schneider 1965).

Appeared in and directed, and produced and edited, uncredited: Sherlock, Jr. (1923).

 
There is an irksome disconnect between Buster Keaton's contributions to film, and his contributions to science fiction film. During his heyday as a silent film comedian, his career involved science fiction and fantasy only in the tangential, intermittent manner of most of the era's films: thus, one finds Keaton shorts involving familiar tropes like stage magicians (Mixed Magic, The Spook Speaks) and a haunted house (The Haunted House); outlandish electric gadgets inspire the gags in The Electric House; and Keaton brews scientific potions with unlikely effects in one of the best of his later shorts, The Chemist. Most significantly, there is the surrealistic Sherlock, Jr., a pioneering and poignant meditation on the impact of films upon viewers that influenced later films like Woody ALLEN's The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) and Arnold SCHWARZENEGGER's Last Action Hero (1993). Featuring the perpetually inventive Keaton at the peak of his skills, these are all the sorts of films that a critic would enjoy watching and discussing at length.

Unfortunately, if that critic happens to be compiling an encyclopedia of science fiction film, his attention must be drawn elsewhere—to the later part of Keaton's life, long after the man had effectively destroyed his career by means of bad business decisions and heavy drinking; for it is at that time, when the aging comedian needed to work, wanted to work, and was necessarily taking whatever jobs were offered him, that one begins to regularly observe Keaton in films of "genre interest," even if they are rarely interesting. Thus, one of the films he made in Mexico, originally entitled El Moderno Barba Azul and later reissued on videocassette as Boom in the Moon, might be celebrated as the first postwar film to depict an attempted voyage to the Moon in a spaceship, were it not so unwatchably wretched. He fared a little better on television with "The Awakening," an Orwellian take on Nikolai Gogol's "The Overcoat" that has actually survived and is now available on YouTube. However, an episode of The Twilight Zone especially crafted for Keaton by Richard MATHESON, "Once upon a Time," proved disappointing. Its excellent idea was to first film Keaton in the style of silent films as a man in1890, disgruntled with the era's high prices, who travels through time, hoping to find better deals in the present, only to confront a normally filmed but oppressively expensive world, driving him back to the past; yet the project never came to life, so this slow-moving and unfunny episode rarely shows up in Twilight Zone marathons. Keaton is more amusing in a similarly stylized instructional film for Eastman Kodak, The Triumph of Lester Snapwell, and he was very well used in Samuel Beckett's singular short, Film, as a man who is aware he is being filmed and keeps trying to avoid the camera.

Most bizarrely, the elderly comedian was for some reason embraced as a beloved mascot in one of the worst film series of the 1960s, the "beach party" movies, where he sporadically appeared to execute a stunt or two before the senseless, incoherent plot again shifted back to the antics of dancing teenagers, forgettable songs, morons from outer space, and/or touches of absurd magic. In the installment I most recently watched, Sergeant Dead Head, Keaton attempts to get some laughs as a befuddled soldier serving at a base for spaceships before he vanishes from the story without explanation, achieving only the dubious triumph of being funnier than Frankie Avalon. But Keaton was famous for enduring every humiliation with a stone face, even as he surely recognized that his once-distinguished career was limping toward a most inglorious conclusion.

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