Thursday, December 8, 2016

Before I Die #590: Seven Chances (1925)

This is the 590th movie I've seen of the 1,187 films on the "Before You Die" list that I'm gradually working my way through.

Director: Buster Keaton

Decent Buster Keaton flick, with some of his great visual gags, but it doesn't top one or two others I've seen.

Like the other handful of Keaton movies I've seen, this one uses a simple premise to set off all sorts of pratfalls, culminating in a sequence that goes on far to long for my modern sensibilities. Keaton plays James Shannon, a young lawyer who is part of a law firm that is near financial and professional ruin, thanks to the missteps and malfeasance of his shady partner. A ray of hope emerges, though, when Shannon receives a telegram that a wealthy uncle has died and left him an inheritance of seven million dollars. However, to receive the money, Shannon must be married by a pre-determined date - a date which happens to be the very same day that Shannon receives the message. This sends Shannon and his partner scrambling to find a bride for the potentially-new millionaire, with only a few hours to do it. Shannon first goes to his lady love to propose, but a series of misunderstandings leads her to shun him. He then grows more and more desperate with every passing hour, trying everything he can think of to convince some young woman to marry him that day.

As with the other Keaton movies I've seen, the story is hardly the point. It merely exists to set up humorous sequences and exchanges, and Keaton certainly delivers much of the time. I've always liked Keaton more than Chaplin, as I've found his deadpan look and amazing physical abilities more entertaining than the Little Tramp. Seven Chances features some great visual gags, to be sure. But I found that it was almost always the smaller, subtler ones that were the best. Shannon and his partner departing from an unnoticed second office door just after a messenger has determined to watch the primary door like a hawk. Keaton's amazingly agile about-faces when he confronts someone or something he hopes to evade. My appreciation of Keaton has always been just how watchable he is even when seemingly minor things are happening on screen.

One of the best-known images of the legendary chase scene.
This whole thing goes on for far too long, in my opinion. Then
again, I've never found chases very funny.
But the problem is that the movie features too many "big" gags, which I found overly long and not terribly interesting. The most obvious is also the one for which the film is most famous - the grand chase finale. The way the story shakes out, Shannon's business partner puts out an ad in the daily newspaper telling everyone about the inheritance and inviting any willing woman to show up at the church later that day. Of course, thousands of women show, sending Shannon on the run from hordes of cash-hungry single ladies (your Beyonce joke here). This grows into a 15-minute long chase throughout the entire town. While there are one or two funny sight gags mixed in, I found the extended chase more and more boring with every passing minute. Keaton does his best to utilize his considerable acrobatic and gymnatic skills, but the chase was more about the set pieces, props, and the hordes of women chasing after him. I simply didn't find these things as funny.

Of the handful of Keaton movies I've seen, this one falls behind Our Hospitality or even Sherlock Jr. It's definitely worth seeing for fans of Keaton or old-school silent film comedies, but don't be surprised if you zone out a bit during some of the the more prolonged sequences.

That's 590 movies down. Only 597 films to watch before I can die.