“Who bats next?”
Drake’s rating: Ssh! It’s silent!
Drake’s review: Before there was Jackie Chan, there was Buster Keaton. A brilliant physical performer who did all of his own stunts, and often the stunts of the other actors in his films as well, Keaton leapt, crashed and sped through the Silent Era. Establishing himself as on of the three top comedians of the time, alongside Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, Keaton continued making films (and doing most of his own stunts) up until his death in 1966. He was, quite simply, among Hollywood’s best and most innovative filmmakers.
Born in 1895, Buster Keaton began performing in vaudeville at the age of three. He learned how to tumble and fall as he was thrown about on stage as part of the Three Keatons, a stage act performed with his parents. Meeting Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle in 1917, Buster was immediately thrust into one of the comedian’s short film comedies and quickly became enamored of the medium. The duo made over a dozen shorts together, with Keaton learning how to work both in front of the camera as a skilled physical comedian, and behind it as Arbuckle’s assistant director.
In 1920, Keaton formed Buster Keaton Productions and turned out a series of two-reel comedies on his own. Refining his work and continuing to learn the art of the silent comedy, Buster became a prodigious physical comedian, fabricating incredible gags that only he could perform. By 1922 he was moving into features and turned out his best-known work with movies like Sherlock, Jr. (1924) and The General (1926).
Lesser known, but by no means any less engaging, is Seven Chances. Based on a 1916 stage play, Keaton directs and stars as James Shannon. Desperately in love with Mary (Ruth Dwyer), the seasons go by in an early Technicolor montage with James unable to profess his feelings. As the sepia-toned film proper gets underway, we find out that James and his business partner Billy (T. Roy Barnes) are in some serious financial straits. Luckily for them, a lawyer (Snitz Edwards) is on their tail with great news: James’s grandfather has died!
Well, that part isn’t great. But what does brighten the day of the young men is the fact that ol’ granddad has left James his fortune: seven million dollars! In 1925 money! But there’s just one catch, and that’s the fact that James needs to be married by 7:00 pm on his twenty-seventh birthday. And just when is James’s 27th birthday? Why, it just happens to be today…
Running off to ask Mary to marry him, all goes well until James inadvertently offends his bride-to-be by telling her that he needs to get married for the inheritance. Offended, she refuses to marry him and a dejected James returns to let Billy and the lawyer in on the bad news. But even as Mary has second thoughts and tries to call him, James is convinced by Billy that he has to marry someone or their business is sunk. Going to their country club, James spots seven women that he knows, setting the title of the film into motion.
Keaton ramps up the pace and the humor as the movie progresses. A fairly quiet film at the outset, Seven Chances starts to pick up steam as one young lady after another rejects James’s marriage proposal. As his search for a willing bride widens out into the city, so too do the humorous bits increase. Finally, when it’s publicly revealed that James is due a sizable inheritance, it turns into a brilliant and hilarious chase. Hundreds of would-be brides pursue James down the city streets, through a football game (leaving both teams flattened on the field), across a river and into the wilderness. It is brilliant visual humor from a master of the medium.
The one fault in the movie is a glaring one, however, especially as seen through a modern lens. For reasons unknown, an actor appears in blackface, which is both distracting and unnecessary. It’s difficult to critique the decisions of a film made nearly a century ago when standards were decidedly different than they are today, but in an otherwise upbeat romp of a movie the character stands out as a very unfortunate relic.
If you can get past that regrettable choice, however, Seven Chances is an excellent example of Buster Keaton’s work during his peak period. Still influencing filmmakers over a hundred years later, his work has often been imitated, but never quite equaled. Whether he was dangling from a crane hook, jumping a ravine or outrunning an avalanche, Buster Keaton always brought his best.
- The hat check girl is played by Jean Arthur, who made a successful transition to the “talkies” and had a long career as a top star until her retirement from the movies in the 1940s.
- Seven Chances has been remade on a few occasions. Most recently it was re-imagined as The Bachelor in 1999, with Chris O’Donnell and Renee Zellwegger. It was critically panned, but let’s face it: Chris O’Donnell is no Buster Keaton.
- Snitz Edwards appeared in three of Buster Keaton’s films. A prolific actor, he also co-starred in The Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney, Sr.
- Buster Keaton himself was not a fan of the Seven Chances stage play, but was asked to do the film by studio head Joseph Schenck.
I seem to recall there having been a Three Stooges short having a similar premise. Not sure about the title, but it was definitely one of the ones with Shemp.
You are correct! In fact, the Three Stooges remade this one twice, as both BRIDELESS GROOM and HUSBANDS BEWARE.
I seem to recall there having been a Three Stooges short with a similar premise. Not sure about the title, but it was definitely one of the ones with Shemp.