johnlink ranks WHAT! NO BEER? (1933)

To this point I have completely avoided all Buster Keaton talkies. His reputation after the advent of sound film is suspect, and I still have a virtual treasure cove filled with excellent silent work to get to. But I’m a sucker for beer. And I’m a sucker for Buster Keaton. So an early sound comedy about Buster Keaton making beer at the end of Prohibition seemed too promising to pass up!


I watched WHAT! NO BEER? (1933) on 2.4.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

Buster Keaton is straight man Elmer Butts and Jimmy Durante is the outlandish Jimmy Potts. As Prohibition seems to be coming to a voted end, Potts convinces Butts to invest all $10,000 of his life savings in beer. They go into business together, though it doesn’t go as well as they might hope (as is to be suspected in a slapstick comedy of this sort).

The plot bounces from scenario to scenario for awhile, holding together with only slightly more fabric than a silent comedy. As the reputation states, Keaton is better at the physical stuff here than the verbal. That said, he actually comes across as likable and interesting. His voice, which had never been heard by my ears before, comes across like an older Jimmy Stewart with all its starts and stops and halts and gaps. Durante is the machine gun mouthed foil, and they are truly funny together. Much of the joking in the first half of the film revolves around simple jokes or silliness being substituted for the wrong word (as when Durante worries he will suffer from varicose brains). The physical stuff, as might be expected, is more nuanced and sophisticated. None of the physical gags are among Keaton’s great bits, but they work as a bit of humor. Durante and Keaton really do work well in unison in a way that would not have translated in silent film.

Plenty gets outright ignored for the name of comedy. The brewing process is laughable. The business logic is zero. The bad guy sort of just disappears at the end. Yet, despite those shortcomings in the story, the movie bounces along eagerly enough to make up for it. Also helping is Phyllis Barry as Hortense, a love interest for Keaton who provides one of the better scenes in the film when her dress gets wet and Keaton comes to save the day.

There are interesting relics of the silent era. Many of the scenarios chose to drop dialogue of any real sort. Notes are shown and signs are displayed in an obvious way which would soon be turned in for more subtle filmmaking techniques. WHAT! NO BEER? is a relic of a genre in transition. While Keaton’s best years were behind him, it was nice to see that he still had a few tricks up his sleeve.

Surprisingly, this is a fun film. It may garner a 5.5 on IMDB and a low score on Rotten Tomatoes, but it is a nice little hour comedy for fans of Keaton, Durante, or beer! My scoring system may give it just 5.5 overall thanks to its filmic shortcomings; but the MOVIE score (considering the entertainment value of a film) is a much more hefty 8!





~ by johnlink00 on February 4, 2014.

4 Responses to “johnlink ranks WHAT! NO BEER? (1933)”

  1. More importantly, this is movie number 625 for this site, but the first from 1933! Go figure!

  2. How have I never heard about this film!!!

    Beer and Buster Keaton are very near the top of my favourite things in life list. I have never really been able to track down any of Keaton’s sound films. Not sure if they are in the public domain. Will have to search around.

  3. all the time i used to read smaller articles
    which also clear their motive, and that is also happening
    with this piece of writing which I am reading here.

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