WriterRichard Schayer, Paul Dickey, Al Boasberg Release dateMarch 22, 1930 (1930-03-22) (US) Music directorFred E. Ahlert, William Axt, Roy Turk ScreenplayRichard Schayer, Al Boasberg CastBuster Keaton (Elmer), Anita Page (Elvira), Trixie Friganza (Ma), Robert Montgomery (Larry), Fred Niblo (Himself), Edgar Dearing (Officer) Similar moviesPitch Perfect 2, Birdman, Frozen, Mulan, Aladdin, Hercules
1930 free and easy buster keaton en marion shilling
Free and Easy is a 1930 American Pre-Code comedy film starring Buster Keaton. It was Keaton's first starring talkie vehicle.
When small-town girl Elvira Plunkett (Anita Page) wins a contest that sends her to Hollywood for a screen test at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), she is accompanied by her overbearing mother (Trixie Friganza) and Elmer J. Butts (Buster Keaton), a gas-station attendant who goes along as Elvira's manager. Elmer is secretly in love with Elvira, but on the train they meet MGM contract actor Larry Mitchell (Robert Montgomery), who falls for her as well, and has the connections to make her a star.
In Hollywood, Elmer manages to bungle his way through numerous films being shot on the MGM lot, disrupting production. When given a screen test, he can't manage to say his one line correctly. Despite this, both he and Elvira's mother are given film contracts, and appear in a comic opera together. Elmer want to tell Elvira that he loves her, but hints at it in such a way that she mistakes it for advice on how to tell Larry that she loves him.
Buster Keaton as Elmer
Anita Page as Elvira
Trixie Friganza as Ma Plunkett
Robert Montgomery as Larry Mitchell
Fred Niblo as Himself
Lionel Barrymore as director
David Burton as himself
William Haines as himself
Marion Shilling (uncredited)
Cecil B. DeMille as Director Cecil B. DeMille (uncredited)
Free and Easy, whose working title was "On the Set", was Buster Keaton's first starring role in a film shot for sound – he had appeared in MGM's talking The Hollywood Revue of 1929, but did not speak. As with his previous film for MGM, Spite Marriage, production on Free and Easy was largely out of Keaton's hands.
The film was used as a way to showcase MGM's many stars and filmmakers and there are many cameos throughout of various actors and directors under contract to MGM at the time, including Cecil B. DeMille and Lionel Barrymore. The film was shot in French-, German- and Spanish-language versions – the Spanish one was called Estrellados – with Keaton speaking his dialogue phonetically, but the 1931 release in France had French-language intertitles replacing the English dialogue.
MGM spent almost $500,000 on producing Free and Easy.
Contemporary reviews were mixed, with the New York Times reviewer Mordaunt Hall stating that Keaton's "audible performance is just as funny as his antics in mute offerings," while Robert E. Sherwood in Film Daily wrote that, "Buster Keaton, trying to imitate a standard musical comedy clown, is no longer Buster Keaton and no longer funny." Nonetheless, Free and Easy was a bigger hit than the majority of Keaton's silent films.
Modern reviews are less enthusiastic, with critic John J. Puccio stating that the film "contains far too much talk and far too few visual gags."
Free and Easy was re-made twice, first in 1937 as Pick a Star, and later as Abbott and Costello in Hollywood in 1945.