Seven Chances (Buster Keaton / U.S., 1925):

The basis is a mossy play Buster Keaton didn't really care for, but the resulting work is so vibrantly cinematic that one stupefying transition (a car ride melted via rapidly dissolving backgrounds) could still be pilfered seven decades later (the Vegas airplane flight in Scorsese's Casino). Keaton shyly courts his beloved (Ruth Dwyer) through the seasons in a postcard composition that emphasizes the picket fence that will be dismantled during the climax. The thrust is that the failing young businessman will inherit $7 million if he's wed by 7pm on his 27th birthday -- meaning the very day he receives the news. He asks for Dwyer's hand, pausing mid-proposal to check his pocket-watch; she learns of the fortune and kicks him out, the rest of the movie is a mad dash to the altar executed with the utmost formalist verve. The club teeming with potential candidates puts Keaton's camera to work: A note with the question is thrown to the belle up in the balcony and its pieces rain down back into the frame, vertical craning follows the hero up and down a flight of stairs as he's turned down twice, a deadpan grace-note finds a hat-check girl shaking her head just as Keaton is about to open his mouth. Unbeknownst to him, his hurried partner (T. Roy Barnes) places a newspaper ad explaining the situation; the dejected groom steps into the empty church and falls asleep in the front row and, with the inevitability of a nightmare, the building fills with swarming, pissed-off figures in improvised bridal veils. The mass of female wrath chasing him down the streets of L.A. is a dilation from Cops, plus also an awe-inspiring visualization of a hassled psyche that misses no surrealism (a row of clocks all set differently when the hero is desperate for the time) en route to an astounding avalanche of the mind. A superlative visual comedy, and a gold mine -- The Ladies' Man, City of Women and Dr. T and the Women all flow from it. With Snitz Edwards. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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