22 September 2008 | ackstasis
"After this bare (bear?) escape, a backwoods romance begins"
Buster Keaton produced many wonderful short films 'The Love Nest (1923)' is my favourite so far but, unfortunately, 'The Balloonatic (1923)' isn't one of them. Despite a fair share of funny jokes, the film is basically comprised of a number of different gags strung together with a flimsy pretense, and so it lacks any narrative cohesiveness. Considering that this was released in the same year as the feature 'Our Hospitality (1923),' which had a terrifically-dark storyline to complement the jokes, this short really does come across as disappointing. Indeed, even the title promises more than the film actually delivers, with barely a quarter of the running time concerned with hot-air balloons. However, cast aside these trivial complaints, and you can simply enjoy Buster's antics for what they are. The actor/director's comedic work still sparkles with imagination and creativity, and few entertainers could have achieved such hilarious results with something as simple as a collapsible canoe. Also, it beats me how he avoided drowning on at least one occasion.
The story opens at a carnival, where hopeless romantic Buster goes out looking for love in a "House of Trouble." As always, it's interesting to note just how stone-faced he remains as numerous ominous figures emerge from dark doorways; his body language communicates fear and panic, but his facial expressions remains astonishingly deadpan. After finding his way out of the attraction, Buster then ruins a perfectly good jacket in being kind to a beautiful lady, before earning a black eye from another pretty girl (Phyllis Haver) who presumably rejected his advances. Buster then inadvertently catches a ride on the top of a hot-air balloon, which brings him down in the middle of the wilderness, where surprise! the girl who punched him is enjoying a lonely fishing trip. The pair try their best to ignore each other, thinking up elaborate techniques to survive comfortably in the forest, until all that remains is for Buster and Phyllis to fall in love. This silly story makes for some enjoyable enough gags, including, most memorably, Buster's face-to-face meeting with two curious bears.