Buster Keaton Stunts: GIFs, Videos, And Stories Of His Craziest Feats

By | November 11, 2019

The painful fall that gave Keaton an idea

Though he's remembered for his death-defying stunts, Buster Keaton was so much more than an adrenaline junkie who got his kicks in front of the camera. After getting his start performing in vaudeville with his family, he quickly became the star of a dangerous show that taught him how to give himself over to increasingly risky stunts.

After serving in World War I, Keaton started working in silent films as a second unit director and gag writer preceding a nine-year streak of starring in and directing some of the greatest silent films of the era. Once sound films took over, however, Keaton's career took a nosedive. His struggle with alcoholism became so severe that he had to take a short trip to an asylum, but he was still Buster Keaton: He often escaped whatever shackles he found himself in. His career took off again in 1950, leading him to television and back to films, and despite his old age, he was just as agile and catlike as before. 

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Source: Metro Pictures

While filming The Three Ages, Keaton's first film under his Buster Keaton Productions, the star was just planning to jump from a board placed on the roof of a building onto another building. Simple enough, right? While performing the stunt, however, he missed the ledge and went sliding down the building into a safety net offscreen.

While Keaton was recuperating, he watched the replay and got the idea for his character to fall off the building and into another room. Rather than throw out the footage, he kept the shot of his fall (cameramen were instructed to keep filming regardless of what happened) and combine it with a fall through three awnings that shot him into a firehouse.  

Buster Keaton catches a train in "Day Dreams"

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Source: First National Pictures

It's hard to say which of Keaton's stunts is his most impressive, but this stunt from Day Dreams is genuinely awe-inspiring. During the film, Keaton is chased by a group of police through the streets of San Francisco and catches a street trolley to escape them. The train doesn't slow down, but that doesn't deter Keaton. He runs as fast as he can and jumps onto the back of the train, where he hangs from the back parallel to the ground. The stunt is just as fun to watch today as it was when the film was released.