A brilliant historical satire teeming with inventive flourishes, Buster Keaton's "Three Ages" (1923, 63 min.) is a silent comedy of truly epic proportions. This clever parody of D.W. Griffith's "Intolerance" follows Buster's hard-luck romantic misadventures throughout world history: from the dawn of man in the Stone Age through the gladiator arenas of Ancient Rome to the city streets of the American Jazz Era. Accompanying "Three Ages" on this DVD are two rarely seen short works: "The Goat" (1921, 25 min.), with Buster mistaken for nefarious gunslinger Dead Eye Dan and caught up in a prolonged slapstick-filled chase, and "My Wife's Relations" (1922, 25 min.), a comedy of domestic turmoil that seems to reflect some of the tensions between Keaton and the Talmadges, his real-life in-laws at the time.
Buster Keaton's feature debut as a director (he shared credit with gagman and longtime collaborator Eddie Kline) spoofs, among other things, D.W. Griffith's Intolerance
with a look at the trials of true love through the ages. Buster plays a hapless suitor in three different epochs: a bearskin-wearing, dinosaur-riding caveman in the Stone Age; a meek centurion with a ragtag chariot in ancient Rome; and a jazz age Romeo in Model T and black tie. In each time period, he vies for the object of his affections with burly, barrel-chested Wallace Beery, matching Beery's brawn and underhanded dirty tricks with sheer energy and ingenuity. The diminutive deadpan comic is hilarious under a shaggy fright wig and cartoon club as a thoroughly modern caveman, a dwarf among giants at the mercy of romantic Darwinism, but the more inventive sequences belong to the later ages. The rousing chariot race of the Roman segment is topped by a gymnastic chase through dungeons and throne rooms, and the modern section is capped by a mad flight from the police while he rushes to rescue his girl. Three Ages
lacks the dramatic unity and sustained creativity of his later masterpieces, but the inventive gas and clever crosscutting turns what could be three individual shorts into an interactive live-action cartoon. Also included are "The Goat," a frantic "mistaken identity" knockabout comedy, and "My Wife's Relations," in which Buster finds himself accidentally married into a family of bullying Irish Catholics. --Sean Axmaker