The Chemist (1936)

Article 4693 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-26-2014
Directed by Al Christie
Featuring Buster Keaton, Marlyn Stuart, Earle Gilbert
Country: USA
What it is: Comedy short

A chemist invents a silent explosive. Criminals find out and try to use the formula to break open a safe.

Just taken on its own terms, this comic short is pretty decent. The various formulas concocted by the title character are amusing (including a love powder and a potion that increases the size and strength of those that use it) and generally well used, and the short has a certain amount of energy as well. If it had featured some lesser comic of the era rather than Buster Keaton, I wouldn’t have felt a certain disappointment. But it does star Keaton, and if there’s one thing that this short really lacks, it’s that special quality that Keaton was capable of bringing to the table; I think this short would have largely felt the same with any competent comic actor in the lead role. The user comments on IMDB lead me to believe that this is considered one of the best of Keaton’s shorts with Educational, but if that’s so, it certainly doesn’t bode well for the others. You know, I wonder how differently things would have worked out for Keaton if the expensive THE GENERAL (which is now considered one of his finest works) hadn’t been a commercial and critical failure in its time; it was this failure that ultimately caused Keaton to lose creative control of his work, which lead to his alcoholism. One can only wonder what his later work would have been like had that movie been a success.


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