Seven Chances (1925)

Seven Chances – 1925

Director – Buster Keaton

Starring – Buster Keaton, Ruth Dwyer, and T. Roy Barnes

Each and every time I watch a brand new Buster Keaton movie, I go into it remembering the last one I saw.  So far each of them that I have seen, except the first one of course, the extreme level of quality has me continuing to hold the next one to that high standard.  The problem with that, comes in with my memory.  Each and every time I forget that these films start out slowly.  There is the inevitable set-up of the premise, the introduction of all the main characters, and the reveal of the potential love interest for Keaton’s character(it happens in each of them).  As a result I get worried in the first 15 or so minutes, that it’s going to be all slow pace, and cutesy plotting.

The fact that Seven Chances was a movie about a man who desperately needs to get married by 7 o’clock on the same day, only elongates the necessary set-up of the film, and tricked me into believing that this would be the one that would simply be corny and sweet, without the usual jaw-dropping action.  As in each of the others, however, I was not disappointed or let down in the least, it simply took me a little longer to get to the meat of Keaton’s athleticism, derring-do, and stunt-work.

As I mentioned earlier, Seven Chances is about a man who needs to get married on the double in order to gain a huge inheritance, and after doing an inventory of the women in his life, and in the immediate vicinity, he determines that he has seven opportunities to make that happen.  Of course the girl he truly loves misunderstands how he actually feels about her, and thinks he only wants the money.  The real trouble starts when his lawyer, in an effort to expedite the process, explains in the newspaper just what the situation is.  Soon enough a flood of women come out of the woodwork all bent on marrying the rather flustered bachelor cum-millionaire.

As with all of the Keaton films that I’ve seen (Sherlock, Jr., The General, and Steamboat Bill, Jr.), the plot of Seven Chances is a backdrop at best and really ends up being a device through which to deliver the action.  The romance and characterization serves the purpose of setting up the scene and attracting people to the film in the first place, and while there are some fairly funny gags with Three’s Company-like misunderstandings, everyone is really there to see Keaton potentially kill himself.

Once again, the mans sheer physicality is astounding.  Each of the stunts is actually done by him, usually in one-unbroken take, and certainly without our modern-day concern for safety.  The rock-slide sequence in particular is the defining moment of this film.  The capper on a 20 plus minute chase sequence, it’s pretty insane to watch this guy run head first into a stream of rolling and bouncing rocks (I assume they weren’t really rocks, but still, his skill at avoiding all the obstacles in his path is exemplary).

That being said, I don’t think this film was quite as good as any of the others I’ve seen, and I’m not quite sure what aspect or characteristic placed this film on this list in the first place.  Perhaps the compilers of this list felt that Seven Chances had some unique defining quality, or maybe that it was of some great historical import, or perhaps it was simply a personal favorite, I’m not really sure.  I will say that it didn’t seem that there was a real stand-out reason to choose it over something else.  Perhaps there was a quota for a certain number of movies from each year, and without this film, 1925 was looking a little light.  Who knows?

Hopefully, I haven’t given the impression that Seven Chances is a bad film or anything.  The fact that I was excited to watch it, I enjoyed it, and that I will be excited to watch the next Keaton film is a testament to his staying power as an entertainer, one who I would have been completely ignorant of, if it hadn’t been for this list.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

Steamboat Bill, Jr. – 1928

Director – Charles Reisner

Starring – Buster Keaton, Tom McGuire, Ernest Torrence, and Marion Byron

A big debate amongst cinephiles is the merit of a film whose sole intent is entertainment, dispensing of deadweight such as message, stakes, and emotional heft.  Today these types of films are called “Popcorn Films” or “Blockbusters”, and they are designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, kids, elderly, men, women, people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds.  No one demographic is really ever left out of the mix when talking about the audience for a film like this, with the exception of one…film snobs.  Does it have to be this way?  Are the visual hijinks, daring physical feats, and very basic storyline of something like Steamboat Bill, Jr. enough to make watching it worth while?  You bet!

This time around (just like most of the other times around) Buster Keaton finds himself the subject of scorn by an adult or an authority figure.  Despite this treatment, he remains almost blissfully unaware, and instead focuses his attention on the pretty young girl who has caught his eye.  Some sort of catastrophe occurs necessitating Keaton to spring into action, simultaneously proving the nay-sayers wrong and confirming the young girl’s belief in him.  Keaton invariably does this by demonstrating his physical prowess in an impressive and hilarious way.

Okay, so the story line is pretty much the same in each of his movies, only the setting and some of the plot points change.  One time it’s a train, the next it’s a steamboat.  He want’s to be a detective in one and the next he wants to play the violin.  This really isn’t all that different from other of Keaton’s peers, Chaplin, and the Marx Brothers for example, were basically the same characters in multiple different movies, but does that remove any of their value, or the value of the film?

I submit to you that this is the best of Keaton’s films that I’ve seen so far.  I say this solely on the strength of the last 30 minutes of the film knowing full well that by then the story has almost completely finished.  We watch Keaton twist and contort his body against the force of a hurricane.  He has to dodge and weave, avoiding entire houses as they collapse around him, and in this flurry of activity I lost track of time and stared in wonder watching him go.  Whereas, during the first 45 minutes I found myself feeling restless and a little board, by the end I was on the edge of my seat.  The only disappointing part, was that the film wasn’t a full hour and fifteen minutes of that.

While I know what to expect from the storyline of a Keaton film, I will keep coming back and watching them because I also know what to expect from the sense of action and adventure from a Keaton film too.  This is my favorite of his films so far, and I don’t say that lightly.

“Buster Keaton, the inventor of break dancing.” – Ashley