Buster Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and Harold Lloyd, was one of the great comics of the silent era. When talkies began, they all faced the difficulty of keeping their audience whilst speaking the words that would normally only be on intertitles and some adapted better than others. Chaplin had an extremely successful career in the talkies, as did Laurel & Hardy but this change led to Keaton abandoning his independent production company and making eight films for MGM. For a man whose career revolved around his deadpan expression and incredible stunts, this move into sound pictures didn't come easily and was a big challenge.
Speak Easily was one of three films that Keaton was paired with Jimmy Durante by MGM - Keaton never got on with Durante but there were no problems on set. In this Keaton plays a timid and bookish academic, Professor Post who is told by his assistant that he's inherited $750,000 so should go out and enjoy life. Post ventures out for seemingly the first time in his life and quickly has problems with public transport and authority figures. Jimmy (Jimmy Durante) takes the Professor under his wing and he becomes part of a stage acts entourage, taking a shine to Pansy Peets (Ruth Selwyn). When the act gets into financial difficulties, Post offers to help them out, revealing that he has a fortune and this attracts Eleanor Espere (Thelma Todd), a golddigger.
Post's money allows them to put on a play on Broadway but the show is not Broadway class and the money isn't as real as it seems.
This is typical of a comedy from the early 1930s as the transfer has plenty of detritus and you get the odd cuts from one angle to another in the middle of a sentence - it is no worse than any of the Marx Brothers films from that period but hasn't undergone any obvious restoration. For what it is, the picture is fine and doesn't spoil your enjoyment.
A fair enough Dolby Digital mono soundtrack with a fair amount of hiss but again nothing to complain too vociferously about as the dialogue is perfectly clear.
The PR bumf says that "Keaton speaks! (And sounds a bit like Dustin Hoffman)", and they're right - if you close your eyes and listen, he has exactly the same accent and similar inflections to Hoffman! The makers of the TV show The Big Bang Theory must have seen this before writing the characters as Sheldon is almost a reincarnation of Professor Post: haughty, stiff, uncomfortable in social situations and unable to understand common parlance. Speak Easily is also almost a forerunner for The Producers, especially in the final act.
It's odd watching Buster Keaton in a speaking role, on screen with Jimmy Durante and (apparently) not doing his own stunts as I'm so used to seeing The Great Stone Face perform incredible feats in silent pictures. Though nowhere near Keaton's best or the finest of the comedies from the early 1930s, this is perfectly watchable and enjoyable with several good laughs to be found. Fans of Keaton's work will no doubt be pleased to see it available on DVD and, if you like comedies from the early sound era, it's definitely one worth checking out.