Brandon’s silent film series scores a knockout with ‘Battling Butler’

Buster Keaton stars in ‘Battling Butler.’

BRANDON — He never smiled on camera, earning the nickname “the Great Stone Face.” But Buster Keaton’s comedies rocked Hollywood’s silent era with laughter throughout the 1920s. Acclaimed for their originality, clever visual gags, and amazing stunts, Keaton’s films remain popular crowd-pleasers today.

See for yourself with a screening of Battling Butler (1926), one of Keaton’s landmark feature films, on Saturday, July 23, at 7 p.m. at the Brandon Town Hall.

Battling Butler tells the story of pampered millionaire Alfred Butler (Keaton), who tries to impress the girl of his dreams (Sally O’Neil) by pretending to be a championship boxer with the same name.

The masquerade leads to knockout comedy both in and outside the ring, giving Keaton ample opportunity to display his gifts for physical and visual comedy.

In the 1920s, boxing rivaled baseball as the nation’s most popular sport. Different neighborhoods, communities, and ethnic groups all rooted for their favorite fighters. Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey was an international celebrity.

Because of this, boxing stories were also popular with early movie audiences.

Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, stands as one of the silent screen’s three great clowns.

Many critics regard Keaton as the best of all. Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 that “in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, [Keaton] worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies.” 

But while making films, Keaton never thought he was an artist, but an entertainer trying to use the then-new art of motion pictures to tell stories and create laughter.

All those talents are displayed in Battling Butler, which is the top-grossing title of Keaton’s silent features.

The program will open with another Keaton comedy, Sherlock Jr. (1924), in which Keaton plays a movie projectionist who dreams of being a detective.

Live music for Battling Butler and Sherlock Jr. will be provided by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based performer and composer specializing in scoring and presenting silent films.

“As an elemental contest between two opponents, boxing inspired early filmmakers to do some great work,” Rapsis said. “It’s a visual sport that doesn’t require a lot of dialogue or commentary to understand, and so was perfect for silent movies.”

The screening of Battling Butler and Sherlock Jr. is sponsored by Kathy and Bill Mathis in memory of Maxine Thurston.

All are welcome to this family-friendly event. Admission is free, with donations accepted in support of ongoing Town Hall renovations.

For more about the music, visit

Other films in this year’s Brandon Town Hall silent film series include:
• Saturday, Aug. 13, 7 p.m.: Blood and Sand (1922) starring Rudolph Valentino in his first starring role as a sexy bullfighter in this romantic thriller. Celebrating its 100th anniversary! Sponsored by Edward Loedding and Dorothy Leysath, the Hanson Family in memory of Pat Hanson and Sally Wood.
• Saturday, Sept. 10, 7 p.m.: The Flying Ace (1926) is a rare example of a silent movie produced for black-only theaters in segregated parts of the nation. It was added to the National Film Registry in 2021. Sponsored by Nancy and Gary Meffe.
• Saturday, Oct. 22, 7 p.m.: Nosferatu (1922). Just in time for Halloween, celebrate the 100th anniversary of F.W. Murnau’s original adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Sponsored by Bar Harbor Bank and Trust.
• Saturday, Nov. 19, 7 p.m.: Her Sister from Paris (1925) starring Constance Talmadge and Ronald Colman. An effervescent comedy about the battle of the sexes among wealthy Europeans. Sponsored by Harold & Jean Somerset.

Share this story:
Back to Top