A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Given that the father-son relationship in the movie occurs when the son is at college level, it's unlikely that younger viewers will get much from that theme. But the character discovering his bravery in a tough situation may resonate.
The movie's main theme is that nobody has the power to change the behavior of others, no matter how abhorrent. But if the right situation comes along, their behavior might turn out to be admirable, brave, and helpful, all by itself. On the negative side, there is a brief joke involving an African-American man.
Positive Role Models
The main character starts the movie as a milquetoast, but eventually learns to be brave in a crisis, and to help others, including his enemies.
Violence & Scariness
Characters shove and threaten each other, punches are thrown, and there's occasional brawling. Characters throw rocks at one another (but miss). A huge cyclone strikes and wreaks havoc in the town, destroying buildings and sending people running for their lives.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
The main character falls in love with a girl and prepares to run away with her. There's no kissing or physical contact. We see some of her frilly underthings during a daring water rescue in the final act. We see a poster for a movie called "The Boob," which refers to an idiot rather than a body part.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
The steamboat captain smokes a pipe and chews tobacco. He gives Buster some chewing tobacco and he accidentally swallows it. There's a partly covered ad for cigarettes (no brand name) on a building.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Steamboat Bill Jr. is the tenth of Buster Keaton's twelve great comedy features from the silent era. It features one of his most fantastic set pieces: a destructive cyclone that blows down several buildings and blasts pedestrians and cars across the street. (In one famous shot, a building falls on top of him, and his body passes harmlessly through an open window.) There's a good deal of threatening, shoving, punching, and brawling in this movie, mostly from the character of Buster's father. The main character falls in love with a girl, though nothing physical (kissing, etc.) is shown. The father character smokes a pipe and chews tobacco. The heroes sometimes engage in illegal or illicit activities, but all is made right by their heroic acts during the final stretch. Old feuds end and arguments are patched up. This is mostly OK for kids, as long as they don't try these spectacular stunts at home! To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Buster Keaton's camera never errs; it's always in the right place at the right time to get the funniest laughs, the most glorious rhythms, and the most beautiful moments of human connection. This was Keaton's final feature as an independent filmmaker (before he signed his ill-fated contract with MGM), and he used the opportunity to top himself with the cyclone sequence. The cyclone provides many amazing, memorable moments, but the most famous is the one in which the front of a building falls on Keaton, and his body passes safely through an open window. (Legend has it that if the comedian had missed his mark by an inch, he would have been crushed.)
But this movie has far more to it than a famous stunt. Ernest Torrence gave one of the great supporting performances in Keaton's films as the gruff, grizzled father. Their straining relationship adds many emotional layers to the story.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.