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Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: Seven Chances

Buster Keaton: The Original Bachelor

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: March 11, 1925 – U.S.
Rating: NR
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Running Time: 56 minutes
Director: Buster Keaton
Writers: Roi Cooper Megrue, Clyde Bruckman, 
Jean Havez, Joseph Mitchell 
Cast: Buster Keaton, T. Roy Barnes, Snitz Edwards, 
Ruth Dwyer, Frances Raymond, Erwin Connelly, 
Jules Cowles, Jean Arthur  

Jimmie Shannon (Buster Keaton) is informed that he will inherit seven million dollars from his grandfather. That was an astronomical amount of money in 1925, and it's still a pretty good chunk of change now. But there's a catch! Isn't there always? To get rich, he has to get married.


It's a ridiculous premise, of course, but it's funny and it works.

"Seven Chances" is a silent film that's shot (mostly) in black and white. The title refers to two things: Jimmie is given a list with seven women he knows – seven potential brides to woo. It also refers to the number of chances he has to win over his one true love, Mary (Ruth Dwyer).

The opening scene is in Technicolor, but no surviving negatives of it exist – only prints. Because of that, the first few minutes are rough around the edges (but still watchable). The bulk of the film, however, is in black and white, and it looks fantastic for its age – especially on Blu-Ray. It's an impressive restoration. I'd honestly be surprised if it looked this good back in 1925.

Because there is no audible speech, the movie relies solely on camerawork, facial expressions, body language, and expert physical timing to tell its story. It does so masterfully.

"Seven Chances" culminates with one of the best chase sequences I have ever seen. I suspect the film lives on after almost 90 years because of it. To say anything more would be to spoil the fun.

However, not every aspect of this Buster Keaton classic has aged well. There's a dreadful character in blackface (played by Jules Cowles, a white actor), who stumbles and bumbles around like a complete imbecile. There's another scene where Jimmie chases after a potential wife but makes a sharp detour as soon as the camera reveals that she's black. She's supposed to be ugly too, which is also part of the humor, but the punchline would have been just as funny with a homely white actress. Still, no one is going to confuse "Seven Chances" with the unbearably racist "The Birth of a Nation."

It remains timeless and influential in every other way. The Blu-Ray includes an amusing 1947 short, "Brideless Groom" from "The Three Stooges." The storyline is similar, with Shemp featured in the Buster Keaton role  but only half a million is at stake this time. Poor Shemp! The 1999 film "The Bachelor," with Chris O'Donnell and RenĂ©e Zellweger, can also be considered a remake.

"Seven Chances" starts off slowly, but at a sparse 56 minutes, it never wears out its welcome. If you've never before seen a silent film, this would be a wonderful introduction.

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