Sherlock Jr is rightly considered as one of the many great films of Buster Keaton’s career. The movie introduces many technical innovations and complex stunts which run side by side the screen comedian’s usual deadpan humour and sight gags to create one of his and the era’s best. A lowly movie theatre projectionist (Keaton) has two dreams in life. He wants to be a detective and wants to snare the love of his life. After being framed by a love rival for a burglary at the girl’s house he is banished, told never to return. His attempts to solve the crime and clear his name come to a dead end so he returns to the cinema where he falls asleep behind the projector. Here, the man literally splits in two (using double exposure) and the dream version of Sherlock Jr enters the movie screen where he has much more success at solving crimes and attracting the attention of beautiful women.
Few films from the era (or any era) display as much inventiveness or technical nouse as Sherlock Jr. Working at a time before many of the cinematic inventions that we take for granted today, including sound of course, Keaton here constructs a beautifully observed comedy which combines the detective genre with an introspective study of his medium while using romance as a framing device. The movie is, at just forty-four minutes, much shorter than most of his features, straddling somewhere between short and feature but barely a second of screen time is wasted with jokes coming thick and fast. If comedy ever does run dry, the eyes are dazzled with a technical marvel or bone crunching stunt which ninety years on, will still make the audience wince.