on February 5, 2004
I'm at a bit of a loss to explain what I thought about SEVEN CHANCES (1925) as a whole, because I had such a mixed reaction to it. The beginning and middle go from being sort of fun to being downright offensive. It's the last twenty or so minutes that save this fifty-six minute feature. They're absolutely terrific and encapsulate all of the things that Buster Keaton did so well.
The premise for this movie is overly simplistic and rather contrived, but then again, we aren't looking for Machiavellian plots out of most romantic comedies. Buster Keaton finds himself as the recipient of a large inheritance. As one could guess, this windfall comes with a catch: if he is married before seven o'clock on his twenty-seventh birthday, he gets the cash. If he isn't married by that time, then he gets nothing. (Wouldn't we all love to put weird catches like that into our last will and testament? I'm planning to withhold everything from my next-of-kin until they put on a clown suit and run down Interstate-270 during rush-hour shouting the lyrics to Eminem's "Lose Yourself".) Since it turns out that today is the unmarried Keaton's twenty-seventh birthday, he races around desperately trying to tie the knot with someone -- anyone. Naturally, there is one special woman who we all know that he's supposed to end up with, but we have to wait until the very end for the movie to reward us with the anticipated conclusion.
If that plot summary sounds familiar to any reader out there, it's probably because the film was remade recently with Chris O'Donnell in the Buster Keaton role. I haven't seen that version of the movie, and I can only assume that the decision was made because a movie mogul had some sick desire to see the words "Chris O'Donnell" and "Buster Keaton" in the same sentence. This movie is less successful when sticking close to its initial foundation. Indeed, the Keaton character's unwillingness to marry outside his WASP background is responsible for two of the more uncomfortable moments. (What is it with this disc and bizarre attitudes towards race? I know it was a less enlightened time, but I've been making my way through the "Art of Buster Keaton" DVD box set and the stuff here really stands out as unusual. And one of the included short films has its own groan-worthy sequences: would any cop really be so dimwitted as to be confused about Buster Keaton's ethnic background just because of some mud on his face?)
What this film is mostly remembered for is its incredible chase sequence that more or less takes up the entire last third. Suddenly realizing that there is only One True Woman that he can possible wed, Keaton must escape the clutches of the thousands of would-be brides who want to get their hands on Keaton and his cash. This leads to sequences of several hundred extras in wedding gowns racing through the city streets, which is almost as funny a visual as the hundreds of angry police-officers chasing Keaton in one of his short films (the aptly named COPS). But it's Keaton's physical dexterity that makes this memorable.
For example, after escaping the city, he races across countryside. He comes to a cliff and quickly throws himself off it, reaching out and grabbing a tree to save his fall... a tree that is being chopped down and which slowly topples as soon as Keaton lands on it. Undeterred, he immediately gets right back up and starts running again. A few minutes later, he's racing down a rocky hill, inadvertently causing a rockslide. Watching Keaton sprinting down a sandy incline while dodging large boulders is amazing. At one point, he comes to a standstill and concentrates solely on avoiding the rocks. He leaps over some. Others he ducks under. He jumps to the left to dodge them. He jumps to the right. My first thought on watching this was that Keaton got himself into a live-action version of Donkey Kong, with fake boulders instead of barrels. I love this sort of Keaton stunt work where I can both admire and laugh at a sequence at the same time.
Also included are two short films. The first item on offer is NEIGHBORS (1920). This one reminded me quite a bit of Chaplin's EASY STREET (a long time favorite of mine), at least the parts where Charlie is jumping in and out of windows and doors to avoid the mighty Eric Campbell. Here, Keaton is attempting to get some alone time with daughter of the house next door, and using a electrical-cable as a zip-line is just one of his inventive stunts. A hilarious short and one full of great physical comedy.
The other short film is THE BALLOONATIC. The eponymous balloon serves merely as the McGuffin to deposit Keaton into a surreal camping adventure. You can't help but love the completely straightforward way Keaton's character always dealt with life. You see a hot-air balloon? Start climbing all over it! You drop out of the sky into a remote forest that's miles from anywhere? Never mind getting home -- just have a vacation right here and now! This print is very scratchy, but it's still quite watchable.
Although I was faintly bored by most of the main feature's first forty minutes, this disc is well worth the purchase for everything that comes after that: the incredible and hilarious extended chase sequence and the two inventive short films.
on May 11, 2002
When it comes to silent comedy, I'm a Harold Lloyd/Our Gang man, but this film has increased my appreciation of Buster keaton.
The man was a comic genius. Although the story is wildly improabable, you wind up caring about what happens to Buster and his finacee.' The mad chase scene, while a bit drawn-out, shows remarkable comic timing and while it may not make you laugh out loud, you have to admire the work that went into this.
The only drawbacks are the elements of the racism of the era. The finacee's handyman is clearly a White actor in blackface (an odd choice, since there are a couple of other actual Black actors in the film). One rather crude scene has Buster approaching a possible "wife" on a park bench. He retreats when she opens up a newspaper written in Hebrew. A short while later, he admires a young lady from behind and tries to talk to her, only to "hit the road" when she turns to reveal she is Black. But being a film purist, I would not recommend that these offensive scenes be removed from current prints. They should stand to show the mentality of that era.
That aside, it's a great film.
on March 26, 1999
Seven Chances was an old warhorse of a stage play, and at first that fact is a little too obvious. Stick with it, though, because the climax is pure Keatonian surrealism, and as falldown funny as anything he ever did-- Buster pursued for two reels by two equally terrifying forces of nature, an army of angry would-be brides and an avalanche of enormous boulders. Includes one of his more pointed shorts, Neighbors, in which love struggles to overcome the animosity of two sets of families. Any comment on his own marriage into the Talmadge family is surely coincidental.
on November 3, 2001
Seven Chances is a farce comedy. Buster must get married by 7PM to inherit $7 million. This is Buster's weakest silent feature (The Saphead doesn't count). Buster felt this was his weakest feature and did not want Raymond Rohauer to reissue it. Seven Chances is not a bad movie, any Buster Keaton movie prior to MGM sound is worthwhile. However, it's just nowhere near Buster's best. Lots of running by Buster helps the momentum near the end. The scene with the boulders is very good. This tape also contains two shorts: Neighbors and The Balloonatic.