Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin are the kings of silent comedy. They’re the only relics of the silent age I’ll willingly go back to, and since I’ve already revisited Chaplin, I figured I’d pay Keaton a visit, too.
This film is pretty paltry compared to many of the films I’ve seen this month, going only 56 minutes. I don’t intend to watch any other films less than an hour’s length for the rest of the way, but when it comes to silent cinema, sometimes the options are limited.
Seven Chances is a pretty standard piece of silent film fare. A goofy premise, the main character attempting to navigate it, and the consequences of their actions. Lots of different settings, visual gags, people making exasperated faces… yeah. Not much of a distinct hook outside of the main star.
Only the last 10-15 minutes of this really go above and beyond in making it distinctly Buster Keaton™. Lots of really eccentric, fast-paced stunts and many moving parts that take up much of the screen. Specifically, but not explicitly so, lots of running women. Perhaps a hundred, maybe more, giving chase to this feeble little man as he goes Sonic-speed across roads, dirt paths, mountains, trees, and what have you. Death-defying stunts and a lot of pretty drastic situations that make it pretty enthralling. Unfortunately, it comes a wee bit too late.
Despite the 56-minute runtime, one feels every minute. Particularly outside the period noted in the above paragraph, this was just Keaton going around asking women to marry him. That’s pretty much it. Yeah, it’s kind of cute to see the first few women reject him straight out, because that’s ludicrous, but it drags on considerably. And the whole situation regarding the female love interest is fairly dumb. She basically sits around for most of the film.
Now, to get a little “woke” in here, one could certainly make the argument here that this is vaguely sexist. Keaton’s character must find a wife by seven o’clock on the dot in order to obtain a $7 million inheritance from a relative. So he goes around and basically picks and chooses eligible women (most happen to be his age and attractive) to ask. He wished to be with his beloved… uh… friend? Neighbor? That’s the important part here: he’s doing this because he doesn’t have a choice. He’s actually a good boy who loves this one girl. What a lovely, wholesome person.
One could debate the sexism; one cannot debate that this is one-hundred percent racist. Wow, oh wow, this is cringeworthy. Granted, it’s not like Buster Keaton is screaming the “n” word for 56 minutes straight, but there’s what looks like a couple instances of blackface and two very “”””””””funny”””””””” scenes. On his desperate search for a wife, he comes across a foreign-looking woman, who opens a newspaper revealing non-English text. Keaton backs away looking spooked. A little later, he walks up to another woman from behind, only to realize the woman is black. Again, he yanks himself right out of there. Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiikes.
People can ignore these instances. People can say, “It was just those times.” Even so, knowing the film was fairly unentertaining for 70% of its course and then peppered with some really disgusting tidbits, it makes the whole experienced tainted with uneasiness. Even a rather spirited climax isn’t enough to make this more than just an average viewing. And well, it’s racist. Like, absolutely, totally racist—no “Well, if you look real closely—” garbage. It is.
It’s Buster Keaton. Some will dig it because it’s Buster Keaton. I watched this because of Buster Keaton. But like anyone, sometimes they have duds. This is one of those times.
Final Score: 5/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!