The head of the fir tree – Film news |


Herbert Blache (director)

Eureka (studio)

you (certificate)

84 minutes (length)

August 22, 2022 (published)

1 d

It’s a Buster Keaton movie okay, but not a Buster Keaton movie… In fact, the silent comedy THE SAPHEAD (1920) marks Keaton’s feature debut and although he figures prominently, his role is a far cry from the built-in physical slapstick. antics that were to follow a few years later. Here, however, he plays the pampered, incompetent son of a powerful Wall Street financier whose general incompetence and privileged upbringing cause him to stumble from misadventure to misadventure… However, to win the heart of the woman he loves , he is finally forced to face reality.

Bertie ‘The Lamb’ Van Alstyne (B. Keaton) is the son of Nicholas Van Alstyne (William H. Crane) – the real wolf of Wall Street and the richest man in New York. Unfortunately, Bertie shows no interest in stepping into his father’s shoes, preferring to spend his days doing nothing while an array of butlers and maids bustle around him. On top of that, he secretly longs for a romance with Agnes Gates (Beulah Booker), his adoptive sister! The disappointment of “old Nick” doesn’t end there: his son-in-law, Mark Turner (Irving Cummings), is liked by Nick, but in fact he is not only a rather failed lawyer, but a secret troublemaker who, so far has managed to hide a dirty secret from his young wife Rose (Carol Holloway) and the secret in question concerns Mark’s affair with his mistress Henrietta with whom he has an illegitimate child. The beans are about to be spilled when a young woman appears in Mark’s office and informs him of Henrietta’s sudden illness – in order to prove to Mark that she is telling the truth, she shows him a short letter written by Henrietta asking for financial assistance…

Meanwhile, back in the Van Alstyne household, Bertie confides his secret love for Agnes to the maid, who quickly produces a book with advice on how to win the heart of the modern woman…in which the author suggests that modern women are not romantic and therefore not interested in the traditional gentleman, far from it, they prefer the Jack type the boy who drinks and gambles all night and gives off an air of danger. Being the quiet type, Bertie is at first confused as to what to do and decides to pick up Agnes (who has returned from a brief vacation) at the train station and greet her with a bouquet of flowers. Unfortunately – and being the saphead that he is – he manages to confuse the stations and while Agnes arrives at Grand Central (wondering where Bertie is), he waits at Pennsylvania Station, wondering where she is. Disappointed that Bertie didn’t come to greet her, Agnes finds her way home and expresses her frustration to old Nick that Bertie just doesn’t seem to care about her. Disappointed that Agnes didn’t seem to be expecting him, Bertie – coincidentally – bumps into some of his friends who quickly invite him into a lair of iniquity and the “lamb” not only truly is wasted, but tries everything to get himself arrested after the police raid the scene – could his wild and shameful behavior and his photo in the next day’s newspaper convince Agnes that he is now a full-fledged daredevil worthy of her love? Unfortunately, the opposite happens and it is only once the misunderstanding has cleared up that Bertie and Agnès confess their love. Specifically, he plans to get married but Bertie’s dad won’t have any of that nonsense and insists his son must first prove he’s capable of earning his own money and fending for himself…before to deny it!

Stepson Mark is also in deep trouble after receiving a letter informing him that Henrietta has passed away and that he must settle the affairs of his illegitimate child. Panicking, Mark lies and insists the letter is for Bertie and that he was the one who had an affair with said Henrietta (in fact, Bertie has a framed picture of a vaudeville dancer called Henrietta on his wall…). Rather than tell the truth, Bertie plays with Mark’s lie in order to shield his sister Rose from the truth, but this turns out to be a bad decision as the letter/case interferes with Bertie’s planned wedding to Agnes…. While he managed to get hired in his father’s company and things seem to be turning in his favor, it is Mark’s lie that threatens to ruin everything but Mark does not stop there… Reassure you, he gets his much-needed boost while our hapless hero finds a happy ending with Agnes after all.

THE SAPHEAD merged two stories, namely Bronson Howard’s 1887 play “The Henrietta” and the 1913 play “The New Henrietta” based on Howard’s comedy. Keaton is in great shape as the stone-faced waster who undergoes a complete character and lifestyle change although the real star is William H. Crane as the old man ‘Nick’ (Crane had previously played the part in the previous version). This beautifully restored film boasts a fast-paced storyline and there are hilarious scenes as novice Bertie enters the cutthroat world of the stock market.

Eureka have just released THE SAPHEAD on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK and the first print run (2000 copies) comes in a limited edition O-card slipcase. Generous bonus material includes audio commentary, a new video essay by David Cairns, a full alternate version of The Saphead, a “A Pair of Sapheads” restoration comparison of the two versions, a collector’s booklet, plus the short film by 1966 “The Scribe” which was Keaton’s last. film (he died that year of lung cancer) on “Construction site safety”.


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