Seven Chances

Seven Chances.  Buster Keaton Productions/Metro-Goldwyn Pictures 1925.
Seven Chances. Buster Keaton Productions/Metro-Goldwyn Pictures 1925.

Before watching the movie:

Buster Keaton is possibly the most enduring silent film personality, next to Charlie Chaplin. Few have made and starred in so many silent films that still get counted as great entertainment now.

This one is probably one of them. Unlike The General and Sherlock Jr, I think I’ve only encountered this as a heavily represented modern release of Keaton’s body of work. So it’s well known on the silent film shelf, but I don’t know of any buzz outside it.

The basic story appears to be an heir who must get married to receive his fortune getting mobbed by gold-digging suitors. Which would provide plenty of fodder for slapstick, and I’m not sure if there will be time for much else, though it’s apparently based upon a play. I wonder what the result will be in the translation from a dialogue-driven medium to a purely visual one.

After watching the movie:

Jimmy Shannon learns that his grandfather has left him seven million dollars, but he may only inherit the money if he’s married by 7 PM on his 29th birthday. Which is that day. But not to worry, he’s been seeing a girl named Mary for over a year and so what if he’s yet to get up the courage to say he loves her?  This inheritance is the ticket out of the financial trouble he and his senior partner at the brokerage are in. But once Mary accepts, he explains why they have to get married that day in unfortunate terms, and she breaks up with him. Forced to go around town proposing to “everything in skirts”, the situation is so desperate that his partner has arranged a front-page newspaper announcement indicating that any woman arriving at the church in bridal costume that evening could become the wife of a multi-millionaire.

Seven million dollars is still a lot, but to put it in perspective, an inflation calculator tells me that it translates to $95 billion adjusted for inflation. The willigness of all these people to marry a stranger for almost a hundred billion is possibly the least unrealistic part of the movie. Probably the only reason there’s not a joke about the brokerage partner or the executor of the will marrying him simply to satisfy the provision is because the idea was so foreign in the 20s nobody thought of it. It doesn’t seem like the sort of joke that would get censored before the Code, since it’s simply harmless teasing about gender roles.

Nominally there’s a sequence where Jimmy is introduced to seven women his partner knows, and has the seven chances of the title, but he strikes out with all of them so fast I ignored it in my summary. I suspect this was the body of the play, but it’s been condensed here to serve the visual emphasis of the medium and let the story serve as a setup for sequences that play better in a Buster Keaton Movie, so instead Jimmy fills time until the point in the story where Mary’s message can get to him asking every woman on the street and then the ad runs and dozens of women of all ages show up and provide a climactic chase. I think the chase goes on too long, but by the time I felt that it had gotten to an avalanche gag that’s considered one of Keaton’s most memorable, and it certainly is that. It’s just also too much at the “get on with it” point.

The opening scene, checking in with Jimmy and Mary season by season to let us know he still hadn’t told her his feelings, concerned me for a moment, making me worry the copy I was seeing had been colorized. However, those shots actually were filmed in Technicolor, in 1925. So there’s historical significance on the technical side of this movie as well as its placement in Keaton’s career.

I’d been ignoring this movie for months because of how short it is (just under an hour), but I decided that if it kept coming up, I’d have to include it. I’m glad I watched it. As with The Cameraman, the plot eventually gets lost in physical comedy, but that’s what Buster Keaton movies are for, and this is certainly as much fun as any other.

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