Seven Chances may be the funniest Buster Keaton film I have seen as of yet. Tightly packed at a scant 56 minutes, this 1925 silent comedy has a simple premise: Buster, playing troubled financier James Shannon, will inherit $7 million dollars if he's married by seven o'clock on his twenty-seventh birthday. Naturally, this news comes to him on that very birthday, and with only hours to spare, Buster goes searching for a wife so he and his partner (T. Roy Barnes) can pay their debts and avoid jail. When Buster's proposal to Mary (Ruth Dwyer), the girl he's always loved, falls flat, he and his colleuges undertake a desperate hunt to find a willing bride by any means necessary.
Naturally, the comedy that follows springs from Old Stone Face's embarrassing attempts to woo young ladies. He tries the direct approach, written notes, getting down on one knee--none of it works. The whole situation escalates when his business partner places an ad in a newspaper promising the big bucks to whatever eligible woman can get to the church in a bridal gown by five that evening. A parade of hopeful old maids rolls in, and once they get the idea that they've been the victims of a hoax, a merry chase ensues.
While the "plot" of Seven Chances may be nothing special, Keaton--who also directed--turns the familiar situation into hilarious comedy by effectively escalating the scenario from a quiet place to an uncontrolled frenzy. The beginning of the picture--which is shown in quavering early Technicolor--notes how long the shy moneyman has avoided telling Mary his true feelings. From this standing position, Keaton slowly accelerates, layering on ingenious sight gags (the barbershop bit had me in stitches) and touching character elements to the point of bursting. The long chase with the would-be brides gathers more and more bric-a-brac the longer it goes on, and Keaton's stunts not only bring big laughs, but many cries of "Holy crap! How did he do that?!" He tumbles down mountains, falls from treetops, and even has to outrun an avalanche. His sense of timing not only invigorates the comedy, but it creates a sense of true danger, as well.
Surprisingly, Seven Chances was one of Keaton's least favorite of his own movies. This may have little to do with how the film turned out and more with how it began. Apparently, the producer, Joseph M. Schenck, pushed the material on Buster. Seven Chances is based on a play by Roi Cooper Megrue, the rights to which Schenck owned. Despite his reluctance to undertake the project, Keaton turned out an inspired comedy classic despite himself. Amusingly, Seven Chances would inspire others, as well. The Three Stooges teamed with Seven Chances-screenwriter Clyde Bruckman in 1947 to put their own spin on the idea. The effect is somewhat different, but also quite funny--and Kino has been kind enough to include that short as part of their Seven Chances: Ultimate Edition, along with other extras detailed below.
* Audio commentary by Ken Gordon and Bruce Lawton: The pair dissect the origins of the film, Keaton's technique, and the movie's place in the comedian's overall body of work.
As mentioned above, we get the Three Stooges short A Brideless Groom (17 minutes), which was a sort-of remake of Seven Chances, along with an earlier silent film, Edwin S. Porter's 1904 piece How A French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the New York Herald Personals Columns, which may have inspired Keaton's twist on the subject in Seven Chances.
Finally, there is a gallery of production stills.