Seven Chances (1925)
Director: Buster Keaton
Cast: Buster Keaton, Ruth Dwyer, T. Roy Barnes
Synopsis: A man learns he will inherit a fortune if he marries. By 7 p.m. Today.
Buster Keaton plays against type in Seven Chances, a mid-1920s feature that often gets overshadowed by his better known classics. It was a project that was foisted upon him by producer Joseph Schenck, and Keaton himself was always dismissive about it until sometime in the mid-1960s when he witnessed a theatre audience’s enthusiastic reaction to it, and decided that maybe it wasn’t such a clunker after all.
He plays Jimmie Shannon, a financier whom, we learn in the opening sequence, has difficulty declaring his love to his girlfriend, Mary (Ruth Dwyer). Jimmie’s business is in trouble, and he and his partner William Meekin (T. Roy Barnes) are facing possible imprisonment over their losses. But Jimmie has a change of luck when lawyer Caleb Pettibone (Snitz Edwards) finally tracks him down and advises him that he has inherited $7 million. The will has a condition, though: Jimmie must be married by 7pm on the day of his 27th birthday if he is to receive the money. And his 27th birthday just happens to be the day on which he receives the news of his windfall.
His first response is to propose to Mary, but he blows it by immediately revealing the conditions of the will. Jimmie’s prepared to admit defeat, but his partner and lawyer persuade him to persevere, and he spends the rest of the day proposing to practically every woman that crosses his path. Much of this sequence takes place at Jimmie’s country club, and isn’t really typical of Keaton’s brand of humour. Despite this, he still manages to wring a decent number of laughs out of the situation and brings a considerable amount of subtlety to many of the gags, most of which raise appreciative smiles rather than outright laughs.
The film really takes off in the last couple of reels, which is essentially one long chase scene. Jimmie arrives at the church where he has arranged to meet his business partner who, unknown to Jimmie, has placed an advert in the City’s afternoon newspaper for a bride. Attracted by the prospect of snaring a potential multi-millionaire, a huge number of prospective brides swarm into the church as Jimmie sleeps unseen in the front row. Jimmie’s dawning realisation of why he is surrounded by thousands of women in bridal gowns triggers the start of a truly spectacular chase across 1920s Los Angeles, culminating in a race against time when Jimmie discovers that Mary has changed her mind about marrying him.
Although the gentler humour of the first part of Seven Chances was of a high quality, it’s in the second half of the film, when Keaton is able to demonstrate his physical prowess, that the film really takes off. At one point, he is chased down a rolling hillside by a small avalanche of rocks of all sizes and successfully performs acrobatic manoeuvres to avoid being crushed by giant boulders only to be felled by a tiny pebble. Seven Chances may not have been one of Keaton’s favourites, but it deserves its place up there with his classics. Great stuff.
(Reviewed 4th July 2012)