Buster Keaton’s Last Ride, The Railrodder

Comments 5 by Rebecca Bollwitt

One of the most influential, innovative, and important filmmakers of all time once drove a motorized handcar across Canada.

Always a fan of trains and railways, Buster Keaton filmed The Railrodder in 1964 for the National Film Board of Canada, his terminus being White Rock, BC.

Unfortunately I knew nothing of The Railrodder until my father handed me a collector magazine the other day.

The Railrodder is Keaton’s fitting valedictory to the world or iron, steam, speed and slapstick. The epic of man and machine is seen in microcosm, everything stripped down to bare essentials – one man, a small, motorized speeder railcar, and a clean trajectory across 4,000 miles of track.

buster keaton

Although he is older now, face gaunt and lined, Buster is truly himself one last time, attired in his familiar suit and pork-pie hat, sallying forth across a silent landscape with only his wits and ingenuity (and a delightful musical score from Eldon Rathburn) to survive a multitude of pratfalls and perils. [From Films in Review Magazine, article not online]

The entire film is only 24 minutes long but in that short time it becomes a tribute to a Canadian film making (Gerald Potterton being the NFB Director who convinced Keaton to come to Canada), and certainly an amazing throw back to the silent film era with a score that flows in time with the railway theme.

Part Three

You can find some films on YouTube in pieces or you can buy “Buster Keaton Rides Again“, the NFB produced documentary on Keaton, which includes a The Railrodder – it’s also a great view of Canada, back in the 1960s.

More than anything though, this showcases an actor, filmmaker, comedian and director that is sometimes forgotten in the age of blockbusters and CGI. The fact that he ends his silent film career in White Rock, BC just makes it all that more precious to me, anyway.

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5 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. JarrettSunday, February 3rd, 2008 — 9:01pm PST

    Ohmigod, I remember watching this in my third grade class when we were learning about Canada fifteen years ago, back when Jean Chretien had just been elected PM! Nostalgia trip!

  2. MaktaaqSunday, February 3rd, 2008 — 9:46pm PST

    I’m a huge Buster Keaton fan – he was a genius. I think most of what we’re used to in Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote cartoons came from his movies (which were live action). I really like Seven Chances (which I think was re-made recently), and, for kids and adults alike, The High Sign. Most of the public libraries in the Lower Mainland carry his films on DVD (thanks to Kino Video).

  3. Stephen ReesMonday, February 4th, 2008 — 9:34am PST

    My favourite Keaton film is “the General” – and the star of the film is a steam locomotive of that name. I is a civil war story full of romance and heroism, and is one of the funniest things ever made. There are so many wonderful moments, but one that stands out in my mind is Buster sitting down, dejected, on the connecting rod of his engine. It starts moving – the rod going up and down but Buster (the “great stone face”) does not move at all. And yes there are clips of it on YouTube – but you need to see the whole thing!

  4. AlWednesday, February 6th, 2008 — 5:26pm PST

    I watched this film at Expo67. Its a a nice treat to see it here / on YouTube. Thanks for linking to it.

  5. Steve W.Sunday, August 1st, 2010 — 3:26am PDT

    Here’s a link to the official NFBC video for you to watch online…

    Please tell us more about that Films in Review article, specifically, what’s the date of the magazine?

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