THREE AGES is one movie told in three parts. The first section takes place during prehistoric times, showing us Caveman Buster's (riding around on his special-effect dinosaur) attempts to woo cavewomen. The second part is set during the height of the Roman Empire, while the third is contemporary (well, it's set in the then-current 1920s, which means now it almost qualifies as historic). The movie follows the course of love, giving us a typical example of courtship (meeting the parents, jealousy, etc) and how that situation would unfold in each time period. Naturally, many of the jokes come from seeing how much things haven't changed.
In the historical time periods, much of the humor is derived from having anachronisms in the form of modern conveniences: the Caveman Keaton plays golf with a huge rock club, and the Roman Keaton has a sundial watch. It's a pity that these sort of gags would be endlessly ripped off in later films, as it does take a little of the shine off them here. Still, what may not seem fresh anymore nonetheless remains amusing.
I liked this movie even though there isn't too much in the way of Keaton's noted physical comedy. There are a few jokes that rely on him bouncing in and out of things, but to a far lesser extent than usual. There are some impressively large-scale sequences (I'm thinking of the rock battle, the chariot race, and the football game) that had me grinning. This is a film that is more amusing than it is laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Also included are two short films: THE GOAT and MY WIFE'S RELATIONS.
THE GOAT contains two staples of the short films of this era. Jokes about being hungry, and people running away from the police as fast as they can. Keaton finds himself in what could almost be described as a preview for another short film he would complete the following year, COPS. In both films, Keaton begins by minding his own business, but then accidentally running afoul of the police. He must run quickly to avoid arrest, while devising neat ways of eluding his would-be captors. He eventually gets confused for the infamous escaped criminal, Dead Shot Dan, and finds himself wanted, dead or alive. Misdirection and near misses are the order of the day, as Buster becomes increasingly frantic in his escape attempts. This is really my favorite kind of Buster Keaton short film: Buster running frantically through city streets, using every kind of transportation he can to get away from someone.
In MY WIFE'S RELATIONS, Keaton finds himself (after a mix-up at City Hall) married to an enormous Irish-Catholic woman and her enormous Irish-Catholic family. There isn't too much to say about this one. Keaton, a WASP, tries to survive in an immigrant/ethnic family. Naturally, by the end of the twenty minutes, he's engaged in a pitched battle against an outraged group of people he hadn't even met at the beginning. The back of the DVD casing claims this film "reflects some of the tensions between Keaton and the Talmadges, his real-life in-laws", which is a bizarre claim (and one I've seen contradicted). Did Keaton's in-laws really pelt him with bricks, and would he exit their house by wrapping up in a carpet and rolling down the stairs?
The THREE AGES DVD contains three films, which at their worst are merely amusing, and at their best are hilarious. THE GOAT is by far the best that this has to offer, but THREE AGES and MY WIFE'S RELATIONS definitely have their moments. It's a pity that the picture quality isn't terrific, but when the material is over eighty years old, one can't afford to be picky.