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The Railrodder

The Railrodder

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The Railrodder is a 1965 short comedy film released by the National Film Board of Canada
National Film Board of Canada
The National Film Board of Canada is Canada's twelve-time Academy Award-winning public film producer and distributor. An agency of the Government of Canada, the NFB produces and distributes documentary, animation, alternative drama and digital media productions...

 and starring Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton
Joseph Frank "Buster" Keaton was an American comic actor, filmmaker, producer and writer. He was best known for his silent films, in which his trademark was physical comedy with a consistently stoic, deadpan expression, earning him the nickname "The Great Stone Face".Keaton was recognized as the...

 in one of his final film roles. It was also his final silent film
Silent film
A silent film is a film with no synchronized recorded sound, especially with no spoken dialogue. In silent films for entertainment the dialogue is transmitted through muted gestures, pantomime and title cards...

, as the film contains no dialogue and all sound effects are overdubbed.

Directed by Gerald Potterton
Gerald Potterton
Gerald Potterton is a British/Canadian director, producer and animator. He is best known for directing the cult classic Heavy Metal and his animation work on Yellow Submarine....

, The Railrodder is a 25-minute comedic travelogue of Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

. It begins with Keaton, playing an unnamed English gentleman, reading a newspaper in London, England. A full-page ad proclaiming "SEE CANADA NOW!" catches his attention. He promptly throws the newspaper away and jumps into the Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

. He subsequently reemerges on the east coast of Canada, having apparently swum the Atlantic
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

, where he is greeted by a sign indicating the direction to the other side of Canada, 3,982½ miles away.

Buster starts his long hike, but soon finds a one-man, open-top rail maintenance vehicle, commonly known as a speeder
A speeder is a maintenance of way motorized vehicle formerly used on railroads around the world by track inspectors and work crews to move quickly to and...

, parked on a rail track. He sits in the driver's seat intending to take a nap, but he accidentally puts the vehicle in gear, and it speeds off down the track.

The remainder of the film is a series of mini-adventures shared by Buster and the motor car as the vehicle (with an apparently inexhaustible fuel supply) follows the Canadian National Railway
Canadian National Railway
The Canadian National Railway Company is a Canadian Class I railway headquartered in Montreal, Quebec. CN's slogan is "North America's Railroad"....

 line across Canada. En route, Buster is shown making breakfast, acting as a maid, and even doing laundry, never once intentionally stopping the vehicle (though he later does stop in order to obtain camouflage so he can do some bird-hunting). A running gag involves a storage compartment in the vehicle which, much like Mary Poppins
Mary Poppins
Mary Poppins is a series of children's books written by P. L. Travers and originally illustrated by Mary Shepard. The books centre on a magical English nanny, Mary Poppins. She is blown by the East wind to Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, London and into the Banks' household to care for their...

' bag or Doctor Who
Doctor Who
Doctor Who is a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC. The programme depicts the adventures of a time-travelling humanoid alien known as the Doctor who explores the universe in a sentient time machine called the TARDIS that flies through time and space, whose exterior...

The TARDISGenerally, TARDIS is written in all upper case letters—this convention was popularised by the Target novelisations of the 1970s...

, seems to be infinitely large on the inside, as he pulls out everything from pillows and a fur coat to a full tea service. Along the way he also has some close calls with locomotive
A locomotive is a railway vehicle that provides the motive power for a train. The word originates from the Latin loco – "from a place", ablative of locus, "place" + Medieval Latin motivus, "causing motion", and is a shortened form of the term locomotive engine, first used in the early 19th...

s and even other speeders coming the other direction, but emerges victorious each time.

The backdrop to all of this is the Canadian countryside, as the film provides scenic views of Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies, the Rockies and the West Coast, circa 1964-65. Cities visited by Buster include Montreal
Montreal is a city in Canada. It is the largest city in the province of Quebec, the second-largest city in Canada and the seventh largest in North America...

, Ottawa
Ottawa is the capital of Canada, the second largest city in the Province of Ontario, and the fourth largest city in the country. The city is located on the south bank of the Ottawa River in the eastern portion of Southern Ontario...

 and Vancouver
Vancouver is a coastal seaport city on the mainland of British Columbia, Canada. It is the hub of Greater Vancouver, which, with over 2.3 million residents, is the third most populous metropolitan area in the country,...


The film ends with Buster finally arriving at the West Coast. After taking in the view for a few moments, he gets ready to start the long ride back, only to discover his rail car has been taken by a Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese gentleman who has just emerged from the ocean and has decided to take his own tour of Canada. With a shrug, Buster starts walking down the long track.

Buster Keaton Rides Again

Concurrent with the production of this film, the National Film Board produced a documentary entitled Buster Keaton Rides Again
Buster Keaton Rides Again
Buster Keaton Rides Again is a 1965 documentary film about the filming of Buster Keaton's film The Railrodder, which was also released in 1965. Although it is a production documentary, this film is actually longer than The Railrodder, which was only 24 minutes long...

 which combines behind-the-scenes footage of the making of The Railrodder, including sequences showing Keaton and the director discussing (and occasionally arguing over) gags in the film, as well as Keaton meeting fans across Canada, with retrospective footage of Keaton's Hollywood career. With a running time of 55 minutes, it is more than twice the length of The Railrodder. According to Kino Video's website for the film, this documentary contains the only known footage of Keaton working behind-the-scenes on a film.http://www.kino.com/video/item.php?film_id=249 The documentary was filmed in black and white, as opposed to the short film itself, which is in color.


The Railrodder and Buster Keaton Rides Again are available for free streaming on the National Film Board's website as well as on DVD. In addition it's also on the NFB's Youtube channel. In Canada, the NFB itself markets the DVD, while Kino Video distributes the film in the United States.

External links