In 1925, Buster “Rhymes” Keaton directed and starred in a moving picture called Seven Chances. In 2012, I saw it. Read on to see if you should too!
The movie begins with a placard explaining that Buster’s character, a stone-faced gentleman by the name of James Shannon (who we’ll just call Buster), is in love with his sweetheart, but can’t seem to tell her. The movie shows four quick scenes to illustrate this point. The first one takes place on a sunny summer day, with Buster and his girl (who I’m pretty sure didn’t have a name, which, if movies of this era taught me anything, was the style of the time) standing in front of a nice white house. The girl is playing with a tiny puppy while Buster nervously tries to muster up the courage to confess his love.
The scene cuts to autumn. Buster and his girl are still in front of the house, only now the leaves have fallen from the trees and the dog she has is slightly larger. Then winter. Buster and his girl are in the same position, standing over a blanket of snow, with a large sized dog. Finally, in spring, Buster and his girl are STILL standing there, only now the dog she is holding is gigantic. Now, I’m pretty sure the dog is meant to indicate the passage of time – ie – the dog was a puppy in the summer and grew to be a gigantic monster of a dog by the spring. But, since it’s never stated, I personally like to think that the girl just gets sick of her dogs easily and replaces them every time we see her. It’s more fun that way! Buster still hasn’t told her anything, which is totally understandable, since sound hadn’t been invented yet. Still, it’s probably for the best. If Buster’s idea of a good time is to stand in front of a white house and look nervous, I think the girl could do better…
While Buster spends his off-time standing in front of houses, his vocation seems to be as a shady, high-stakes hedge-fund manager. Now, most of us would find it hard to root for a hero with such a despised job, but we should remember that this was before the current recession, and, indeed, before the Wall St. collapse of 1929, which caused the Great Depression. In 1925, I imagine, shady, high-stakes hedge-fund managers were looked at as pillars of society, literally holding our economy as it kept going up and up and up! (Little did they know that they were holding up the economy with popsicle sticks… but I digress…)
Buster and his partner, being the good shady, high-stakes hedge-fund managers that they are, have lost everyone’s money and look to face prison-time for the shady ways they lost it. The only way they can get out of this bind (which, I remind you, probably cost many, many families their life savings…) is to somehow get a lot of money. As they try to figure out a way to weasel out of their predicament, a lawyer comes by, trying to speak to Buster. Thinking that the lawyer is coming after him with a summons (re: financially annihilating people’s lives), Buster and his partner keep trying to evade him. This evasion seems to take up a good 10 minutes (of a 50 minute movie) and ends with the lawyer sneaking into the exclusive country club that Buster and his partner belong to (which I guess explains where some of the money went).
The lawyer doesn’t have a summons, though. He has a will! Buster’s grandfather died, and Buster will inherit 7 million dollars (which, due to inflation, would be the equivalent of 7 trillion dollars today) — but, due to his grandfather’s eccentricity or some prohibition-era law I don’t understand, Buster will only get the money if he marries a girl by his 27th birthday… inside a haunted house!* He was informed of this on his 27th birthday, so, he rushes to the girl he loves, and with the courage that only 7 million dollars can buy, he confesses his love to her. When he demands that they get married that day, she tells him no and he slinks away. Now, this would have probably been avoided if he had just taken a half a minute to tell her about his grandfather’s will, but I’ll give Buster a pass because, once again, this is a silent movie and that sort of exposition is hard to mime.
After he blows it with the girl he’s actually in love with, he spends the day trying to get any old girl to marry him. He tries seven different girls (thus the name of the movie), plus many, many other girls as well (so, really, this movie could have been called Nine Chances, Seventeen Chances, or Seven Hundred Chances and it would have made the same amount of sense), but all of the women tell him no. Probably because he was so stone-faced when he asked them. A smile goes a long way, Buster!
However, when word gets out that he stands to inherit so much money, an army of gold-digging women crawl out of the woodwork to marry him… and when it’s implied that he won’t marry them, they quickly grab a bunch of bricks and decide to kill him. Fair enough.
To be honest, most of this movie before this point was kind of boring. The only parts that I thought were interesting were the rosy racism, sexism and anti-Semitism that they peppered in. In one scene, Buster sidles up to a woman to woo her, but notices at the last second that she’s reading a Hebrew newspaper. A Jew?!? Buster slinks away, and I am honestly surprised that they didn’t have her smell the money with her giant Jew nose… The very next scene, he sidles up to another women, wearing a babushka-type thing over her hair, which covers her face. He is about to (silently) turn on the ol’ Buster-charm, but she turns her head and he sees that she’s black! Yipes! So… there’s something for everybody! Then there’s the question of his sweetheart’s manservant. Shortly after she rebuffs Buster, she asks her manservant to deliver a note to him that she’s changed her mind. This manservant was obviously a white guy in black guy make-up. I hesitate to call it black-face, because I think of black-face as an over-the-top denigration, played for laughs… but this portrayal was… kind of understated. Maybe black guys were hard to come by back then? Or, the more fun possibility is that Buster’s sweetheart forces her white manservant to look like a black person (and if she replaces her dog every season for a bigger one, this fits perfectly with her eccentric character!). But again, beyond these moments, it is a snooze-fest.
Once Buster starts running for his life from hundreds of women (which, due to inflation, would be the equivalent of millions of women today), this movie becomes awesome. Buster is a freakin’ athlete, y’all. Look at his legs pump when he runs. It’s literally a blur! He jumps this giant chasm and continues running at full speed when he lands. He falls off this cliff in a way that makes it look like the ground was made of rubber. Buster did all his own stunts. Watch the boulder scene and be amazed! Unfortunately, the chase scene is just the last 15 minutes of the movie, so you have to go through the doldrums before you get your reward. Or… I can just post these highlights I found on the Internet. Enjoy!
* — The haunted house part is, unfortunately, a lie…