The Second Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon: Seven Chances (1925)

This post is part of the Second Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon, hosted by Silent-ology. Click HERE for a list of all the participants!

I mentioned in my post for last year’s Buster Keaton Blogathon that I was a tad miffed I missed out on grabbing Seven Chances as my topic.

This year I SWOOPED in and grabbed it before anyone else could. HA!

Why so happy? This movie completely changed my attitudes towards 1) silent movies and 2) physical comedy.

I recounted in last year’s post how when I was a kid I was dragged by my mother to see a rock concert film that happened to be playing as a double feature with the documentary, Four Clowns. Four Clowns is about silent film comedians Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, and Charley Chase. It includes a substantial excerpt from Keaton’s Seven Chances.

I was probably around 11 years old, and thought silent films and especially silent film chase scenes were BO-RING. The extract from Seven Chances changed that attitude in me forever.

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Seven Chances is based on a 1916 play by Dave Belasco. It concerns one Jimmie Shannon (Keaton) who has a bit of a problem confessing his feelings to the woman he loves, Mary Jones (Ruth Dwyer). Jimmie is a junior partner at a brokerage firm that is about to hit the skids financially. He and his partner (T. Roy Barnes) are terrified they are about to be served with a summons and keep dodging a lawyer (Snitz Edwards).

Turns out the lawyer has amazing news for Jimmie: his grandfather has left him a fortune. Jimmie and his partner are ecstatic because this would solve all their solvency problems.

However, there is a catch: to inherit, Jimmie must be married by 7 P.M. on his 27th birthday.

Of course, that day is Jimmie’s 27th birthday.

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Already in love with Mary, he rushes to propose to her, but completely mucks it. Returning to the country club where Jimmie and his partner were finally hunted down by the lawyer, he tries to propose to other women. There are seven women there his partner knows (the “seven chances” of the title) and every attempt is a failure.

Meanwhile, Mary has second thoughts. She sends a note via her hired hand (Jules Cowles). Jimmie’s partner tells him to show up at a church by 5 P.M. and he’ll have a bride there for him, if Jimmie can’t find one in the meantime. His partner puts a story in the afternoon paper about how Jimmie needs a bride by 5 P.M. and includes the name of the church.

Jimmie walks through town trying to find a woman who will marry him. The hired hand tries desperately to track him down and keeps missing him. Finally arriving at the empty church, Jimmie falls asleep in the front pew. Women in wedding veils begin to arrive and sit in the pews. After a time, the trickle of women turns into a tsunami, as they all try to cram themselves into the building.

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Jimmie wakes up and is astounded to see himself surrounded by so many women. The minister is also appalled, and tells the women they have been the victims of a prank. Jimmie manages to escape out the window and runs right into the hired hand. Realizing Mary will marry him, he tries to get away from the horde of furious women.

One of the greatest chase scenes in cinema now commences through the streets of Los Angeles. Just the visual of these women (and I wonder if they are ALL women) of various shapes, sizes, and ages running after him is itself hilarious. They all wear some kind of veil, which are clearly makeshift—some look as if they grabbed a dish towel, or a napkin, or a curtain off their window. It’s that kind of detail that shows how witty Keaton’s humor really is, and how it doesn’t depend merely on pratfalls for laughs.

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The most famous part of the chase is when Jimmie loosens a few rocks while running down a hill and those rocks start a chain reaction, resulting in massive boulders rolling behind him as he tries to outrun them. This scene made me laugh so hard my stomach hurt the first time I watched the film. It is so ingeniously orchestrated and edited that it’s hard to believe much of it was actually added after the movie’s initial previews. Keaton noticed a brief scene of the rolling rocks made the audience laugh the most, and was wise enough to go back to shoot more footage to amplify the sequence.

While the action sequences are superb, there are many gags that are subtle, playing on audience expectations and assumptions. One of my favorites is when the hired hand tries to stop Jimmie’s car by holding up a traffic sign. The side shown to the audience says “stop” but the car doesn’t stop. Then the hired hand turns the sign around and you realize the other side says “go.”

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Of course, the most fascinating part of Keaton’s movies is that he did his own stunts, and many of them are death-defying. While the boulders were fake, he really did hang from the hook of a crane at one point. (The “brides” think they have killed him—then get angry again when they realize they haven’t.)

Seven Chances is the movie that taught me purely visual and physical comedy can be utterly sublime. I wonder to this day if I would love film as much as I do if I hadn’t seen Four Clowns at such a young age.

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16 thoughts on “The Second Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon: Seven Chances (1925)

  1. I had seen a clip of Keaton racing the rocks down a hill years ago, but didn’t realize it was from 7 Chances. Now I’m hoping tcm airs it on their Silent Sundays this year. Enjoyed your look at it!

    1. You must watch it! I was glad when I finally got to see the entire film–over the years, I’ve only seen bits, including the famous chase, but there are great moments throughout the film.

  2. Lovely take on a sublime comedy. I’m forever amazed that Keaton regarded this as his worst silent film — there are far unfunnier things in the world than SEVEN CHANCES. And I don’t blame you for wanting to nab this one for the Buster Blogathon — I might do it myself next year!

    1. Well, I hate to contradict Mr. Keaton, but I can’t agree with him that this is his worst film! OTOH, that says a lot about his genius, if this one makes it to the bottom of the list. 🙂

    1. Thank you! I love that detail, it always makes me crack up. I know it’s partly so you can identify them immediately as the spurned brides, but the fact that there is so much variety is perfect.

  3. You snapped it up alright! 😀 I love it. It’s so true that the chase scene from Seven Chances is one of those scenes that can really “convert” people who wouldn’t otherwise care about silent comedies. And I agree that the details of all those makeshift “veils” are a hoot!

    Thank you so much for participating, I’m glad you were able to cover a film you really love!

  4. From what I read about the stage play that “Seven Chances” is based on, it took a lot of effort to make the thing work for a silent movie. Kudos to Buster and his staff for creating such a beautiful comedy. For people who don’t know silent cinema, this film is a great introduction to the art.

  5. Thanks for sharing your gateway experience with silent comedy and Buster! I wonder if the Belasco play was the first time this plot had been done? It’s certainly been recycled since then by other comedians. Don’t have titles but I think the Three Stooges might have done it, and if Jerry Lewis didn’t do it, he should have. Reading all these posts about the movies is making me jones to binge watch them. Yeah, that’s the ticket…

    1. I strongly believe there’s nothing new under the sun, in fact, the time limit and all those brides chasing the “Prince Charming” make me think there’s a bit of a nod to Cinderella. There was a remake a while back called The Bachelor starring Chris O’Donnell–I’ve never seen it, but heard it’s not very good.

  6. This was my Buster film “ah ha” moment. My family and I had been lackadaisically watching a few Buster features, but when we finally saw the down hill boulder sequence in this film, I knew, just knew, that I would be smitten forever. I mean it looked like I was watching a surreal painting in motion! And the build up to the ending? Just thrilling. And as others had mentioned, it’s the details in this movie. For one brief moment at the end he thinks he has lost his girl and the scene of sadness is so so poignant! What a master Buster was in everything.

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