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Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow 

A series about the life, career and works of the movie comedy genius.




Won 3 Primetime Emmys. See more awards »


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An inaccurate retelling of the life of silent filmmaker and comedian Buster Keaton.

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In Paris, a stage-struck would-be actor is mistaken for an escaped convict.

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Elmer Butts is a contestant in a radio amateur hour show hoping to win the first price... by dancing and juggling!

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Two men decide to cash in on the end of Prohibition by selling watered down beer.

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Complete series cast summary:
Lindsay Anderson ...  Narrator 3 episodes, 1987
Charles Lamont Charles Lamont ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
William R. Cox William R. Cox ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Loyal T. Lucas Loyal T. Lucas ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Eleanor Keaton Eleanor Keaton ...  Herself 3 episodes, 1987
Harvey Parry ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Raymond Rohauer Raymond Rohauer ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
John Wilson John Wilson ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Keith Fennell Keith Fennell ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
William Ernshaw William Ernshaw ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Grace Matteson Grace Matteson ...  Herself 3 episodes, 1987
Ronald Gilstrap Ronald Gilstrap ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Harold Terry Harold Terry ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Dean Riesner ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Anthony D. Nealis Anthony D. Nealis ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Gil Perkins ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Albert S. Rogell Albert S. Rogell ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Anthony Simmons Anthony Simmons ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
John Montgomery John Montgomery ...  Himself - Journalist 3 episodes, 1987
Edward Bernds Edward Bernds ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Jack Cummings ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Jerome Medrano Jerome Medrano ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Billy Beck ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Len 'Spider' Austin Len 'Spider' Austin ...  Himself - Clown 3 episodes, 1987
James Karen ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Gerald Potterton Gerald Potterton ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
John Gillett John Gillett ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
Mick Dillon ...  Himself 3 episodes, 1987
William Collier Jr. ...  Himself 2 episodes, 1987


In this series, we follow the life of the legendary movie comedy giant from his childhood on the stage to his film career. Along the way, we learn of the works of this genius and his methods in creating them. Furthermore, we see how events drove him to ruin and how they turned around in his later years to allow him to enjoy the acclaim that was his due. Written by Kenneth Chisholm <kchishol@execulink.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis







Release Date:

30 September 1987 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Buster Keaton - Sein Leben, sein Werk See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Thames Television See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


(3 episodes)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?

Alternate Versions

German version runs 120 min (as aired on "arte" channel in March 2004). See more »


Features Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) See more »

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User Reviews

Buster's Rise, Fall, and Rise
20 May 2005 | by theowinthropSee all my reviews

After Hollywood, and THE UNKNOWN CHAPLIN, Kevin Brownlow and David Gill did this documentary on Buster Keaton, and how he developed as the leading rival of Charlie Chaplin as number one comic of the Silent Period (Harold Lloyd is number three, and then - supposedly - Harry Langdon, Raymond Griffith, and Laurel and Hardy). Keaton had begun with his parents in a lively, knockabout vaudeville act (literally his father threw him about the stage). When he entered movies it was with Fatty Arbuckle's company, and as Arbuckle's friend and admirer. Unlike most silent performers, Keaton was interested about how movies were made, and actually took apart a camera to study it's workings. He learned to build jokes into his films to develop character. And he never lost his fascination with the power of what films could do. Look at a film like SHERLOCK JR., where he carefully spends time using cutting to make a series of improbable events occur on screen (such as jumping through the chest of a man standing in front of a wall). Chaplin plucks at the heartstrings, Lloyd takes ordinariness and perks it up with dangers, but Keaton is concerned on how man is at the mercy of nature and science. In one long sequence joke in OUR HOSPITALITY, Keaton is being chased to a waterfall set of cliffs. He ties himself to a rope hoping to climb up. An enemy finds the rope and ties it to himself, planning to surprise Keaton when he climbs up. Keaton sees this and yanks on the rope causing his enemy to fall off the top of the cliff into the waterfall, but as the body of the man fall down in the background, Keaton realizes the rope is still tied securely to his own body. Looking stoically into the camera and waiting, a moment later we see Keaton pulled off the screen by the falling body of his enemy. He can fight human enemies, but not the law of gravity.

Keaton did well until 1928, but then family and health problems hit him, especially his growing alcoholism. Stripped of his dignity by a studio boss (Louis B. Mayer) who had no time for has-beens, he became a gag writer. But he still occasionally made films in the sound period. The film shows how Keaton's rise occurred in the 1950s, spurred on by the rediscovery of many of his films. It is a remarkable story of a gifted genius who lived long enough to know he was not a drunken failure but universally admired.

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