Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Seven Chances


The IMDb says this was Buster Keaton’s least favorite of his feature movies. I suspect it was because it was based on a play that his producer, Joseph M. Schenck, had bought, and Buster wasn’t impressed. The idea was that he had to get married, to somebody, anybody, by 7 that evening to inherit 7 million dollars. This probably made for an okay farce on the stage, but really wasn’t Keaton’s kind of material. The way I read it, Buster got all that plot business out of the way in the first half hour, proposing to anything in a skirt—which is funny enough, but nothing to what comes later—and then made up his own stuff for the ending. This involved the placement of an ad in a paper detailing the man’s “predicament,” with the result that about 100,000 potential brides show up at the church. Well, it looks like that many. Lee remarked that they must have hired every woman in Hollywood as extras. Maybe not that many, but they couldn’t have missed many of the fat, elderly, and homely ones. One of his most famous two-reelers was Cops, where through a series of misunderstandings—and isn’t that the basis for most comedy?—he is pursued by what looks like the entire police force of Los Angeles. If you think that was a nightmarish scene, wait till you get a load of thousands of angry jilted women in bridal gowns chasing the poor sap through the streets!

In the course of this epic chase, he manages to trigger a landslide of (obviously wood-and-canvas, but who cares?) boulders down a hillside, and has to dodge them all. I just learned that that whole sequence came about by accident. In the original shooting, he actually did dislodge some real boulders, and had to dodge them. In previews, this scene got the biggest laugh, so they went out again and did it with lots more rocks. Thus are classic comedy moments often born.

In films of this era you will often see things that we would regard as racist today. There are two scenes here that have been objected to by some. In one, he comes up behind a woman that he can’t see is black, does a double take, and hurries off. Well, sure, interracial marriage was pretty much unthinkable back then. (For a more disturbing bit of racism—though nothing unusual by the standards of the times—see Neighbors.) In another scene, he sits beside a woman reading a newspaper. He proposes. She shrugs, and raises the paper so that we can see it’s written in Hebrew. Is this meant to mean that marrying a Jew is unthinkable? Maybe, but I interpreted it to mean she didn’t understand him, because she didn’t speak English. Then there’s a third scene where he sees a poster for a female actress and pays off the stage door guard to let him in. Once inside, someone moves a box that had been covering part of the poster (a frequent Keaton device, someone or something inadvertently blocking vital information) to reveal that the performer is Julian Eltinge, which meant nothing to me and Lee. But apparently everyone in 1925 would have known that this person was a drag queen (and a hell of a convincing one). He/she was very famous. I didn’t know that! That’s why it’s funny when he comes back out of the theater and he’s obviously had the crap beaten out of him. Many female impersonators are not gay. In fact, Eltinge went to some lengths to establish he was just an actor, and very masculine offstage.