The Neighbors

Film Review by Dean Duncan Feb 17, 2015

The tenement setting in Keaton’s 4th released short film suggests Chaplin, and Keaton proves himself up to that lofty challenge. Like Easy Street (1917) or A Dog’s Life (1918), The Neighbors hints at real deprivations, real conditions and consequences. Like Chaplin generally, that subtext actually deepens or sharpens this film’s comedy, which is quite considerable. Domestic violence!

Walter Kerr—The Silent Clowns (1975), one of the finest film books ever written—establishes how CC was able, in The Kid (1921) especially, to combine slapstick and emotional depth, or social breadth. The same is true here. The milieu is positively Emile Zola—how could anyone ever change, or escape?—while the romance roots and flowers with unapologetic, quite plausible sweetness and hardiness. Plus, the mechanics at play here are quite astounding. As surely as in the more celebrated One Week, Keaton and his collaborators explore and exploit this setting and its various appointments in utterly dizzying, varying and ingenious ways. Virtuosity! The three level gag—low, middle, high—that occupies the last few minutes of the film is so outlandish, and then so logical and convincing within the artificial world that they’ve created, that you just want to pack up and go home.