It is difficult to write individual reviews on the work of Buster Keaton. The Auteur’s oeuvre is a consistently successful collection cornering a distinctive comedic style. To separate each film for analysis, only to arrive at the same conclusion, seems a futile effort. Nonetheless, each film is of such immeasurable quality and stirs such an excitement and joy from watching, that they each earn individual recognition. If you wish to continue to read this review, please do. If not, rest assured it is another masterpiece.
Seven Chances is a brilliant comedy which exercises Keaton’s timing, elasticity and subtleties. Keaton learns he is the sole inheritor of a grand fortune provided he is married by seven o’clock on his twenty seventh birthday. Which happens to be today. Less an innovative masterpiece of the Sherlock Jr variety, it is a pure entertainment and one of the most enduring.
It is a film of two very distinct halves.
The first half indulges a sorely under-used comedy muscle of Keaton’s. A talented and seemingly invincible stunt man known for his dangerous pratfalls, Keaton also possesses a talent for exquisite subtleties. It is a combination of the unbreakable poker face and the accurate control over the smallest inflections of his body. (A skill acquired from surviving his near death stunts). Glimpsed at in moments across his career, this skill absorbs the entirety of the initial half.
As Keaton begins a frantic search for a wife, any wife, he settles on approaching women he has a vague acquaintance with at the social club. It is a wonderful sequence of Keaton battling embarrassment and inherent anxious qualities, all the while trying to save face. Keaton is hilarious as he reluctantly psyches himself up repeatedly without a shift of his gloomy deadpan face. In mere minutes, he has navigated the club without success and become a laughing stock. It seems odd we could laugh at a character expressing so little distress in situations, but it is the minuscule changes in his countenance rather than outlandish reactions which make Keaton so funny. In the case of the opening sequence, Keaton requires a year to not tell the woman of his dreams how he feels. Keaton generates sympathy as his reserve forces us to fill in the hidden emotions and then laugh that we are not partaking in his dire situations.
After being laughed out of the club, Keaton wanders aimlessly through town. In a increasingly desperate and dazed stupor, Keaton’s romantic fails with foreign women, dolls and men in drag. Seven Chances is full of astounding creativity because it keeps us guessing. Each time it asks, what could possibly go wrong here? And each time, we are as surprised as Keaton, though old Stony Face doesn’t quite show it. If there is a wrong way to romance a particular woman, Keaton finds it.
The second half is pure Keaton with one of the greatest and grandest chases. After the town learns of the impending seven million dollar inheritance, every unattached lady swarms to his request for a wife. Of course, it never is simple for Keaton as he also discovers his true love is waiting for him at home, ready to forgive an earlier mistake. In a mad race against time, Keaton escapes endless swarms of women, swings atop cranes, dodges avalanches and survives car crashes. It is an exhausting sequence of athleticism, laughs and gasps.
Keaton was not fond of Seven Chances. The Auteur went so far as to attempt removing the negative from vaults and, thus, preservation. It is a strange occurrence echoed by modern comedy master Woody Allen who wished to destroy Manhattan. Perhaps Keaton, like Allen, saw their particular piece as a shade below expectation. Seven Chances could very well be a mark below the quality of Keaton’s other work, but when only barely having to glance up to such illustrious company, it hardly seems an insult.
A mass example of being careful what you wish for. Keaton wakes from a nap in church. Dozy and half asleep, it takes a while to realise that every single woman is present and patiently waiting for the ceremony. Like a ripple before a tsunami, Keaton is recognised by one would be wife, then another and another until the crowd erupts and Keaton is caught in a wave of greedy women.