“Seven Chances” (1925) is remembered for one of Buster Keaton’s most elaborate ending chase scenes, which includes paper-maiche boulders and a sea of angry women.
This is a modern piece, and Keaton plays that ultimate 1920s hero, the stockbroker, but despite his elegant three-piece suit and country club surroundings, the film does not have the same kind of 1920s stamp on it that a Harold Lloyd film does. Buster’s gags are more timeless, his character less witty and flippant. Keaton’s dead-pan character, suffering slings and arrows and circumstances, could exist in any era. It is our good fortune that he existed in the era of silent films, as that is where he thrived best.
Jean Arthur’s era was sound films, which is why when she appears briefly as the telephone switchboard operator, with her short dark bob, we have no idea it is the same comedienne with the sweet squeaky voice of “The Devil and Miss Jones”, etc. Here, unfortunately, she has no voice.
She is one of the many young ladies Mr. Keaton, whose shyness prevents him from proposing so long to his girlfriend, must now rashly give out emergency proposals of marriage to keep the inheritance his grandfather left him. He must marry by the end of this day or lose millions.
A misunderstanding with his longtime girlfriend forces him to propose to anybody for the time being, and he is roundly rejected by the smart set at his country club, who all laugh at him and take him for a loony. One scene has him proposing on the grounds outside, only to have a group of golfers for an audience, who stop their game to watch him. He is continually embarrassed, and no one will accept him. His business partner desperately tries to find more women for him, and his lawyer, played with good humor by Snitz Edwards, who you may remember as Florine Papillion in “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925), and who evidently had no problem exploiting and making fun of his less-than-matinee-idol looks.
“Who bats next?” Buster asks his partner with the list of ladies, but none will have him. Finally Buster takes to the streets, proposing in his open roadster to a lady driver in the car next to his, only to drive into a tree. His girlfriend, who really does want to marry him, sends a note by their handy man, played by Jules Cowles. One wonders at the choice of having him play in blackface, which by the late 1920s should have gone out with D. W. Griffith, especially when there are other African-American actors in the film. One man dressed in a suit at the country club bumps into Buster. Later, Buster chases a woman down the street with the intention of proposing, to discover she is a black lady. Later she will turn up as one of the countless throng of women who show up, demanding to be his bride.
One girl to whom he proposes does not understand him, and then continues reading her newspaper printed in Hebrew. Another woman, a stage actress, turns out to be Julian Eltinge, who was at that time a famous female impersonator.
Finally, Buster’s partner gets a newspaper story printed announcing his desperate plight, and hundreds of women, young and old, show up at the church for a chance to marry a millionaire. One can pick out many examples of days-gone-bye props in this film, from the candlestick telephones to the trolley cars, but how interesting that one must include the afternoon paper as one of them. Fewer afternoon editions are printed anymore, as most of the large newspapers in the US these days are morning papers.
When the brides show up, they arrive by car, trolley, and roller skates. When Buster tries to run away, they chase him, a massive throng of women in makeshift bridal veils made from ripped up sheets and towels to what look like tablecloths. They spill out of side streets and chase him down the main thoroughfares. Mr. Keaton shows his impressive athletic ability by hanging from the hook suspended off the end of a crane, by leaping, falling, and always running at breakneck speed. He runs through rail yards and cornfields, and marshland, where after a swim across a river, a turtle attaches himself to Buster’s tie.
We follow him out to hill country, where he leaps over a gorge, and tumbles down a sand embankment like an Olympic gymnast, only he doesn’t stick the landing. Then the famous scene with the avalanche of rocks. Reportedly, a preview audience laughed when he kicked some stones inadvertently and they tumbled after him. Buster went back and embellished the scene by having boulders of various sizes chase him down the hill.
The film is less sophisticated than some others of the era, including his own, but for a breathtaking and funny chase, this is one of the best.
It may be that we are less sympathetic with Buster in this one because he is already a well-dress stockbroker and will be wealthy if gets married in time, so there is less pathos. We inevitably feel for the underdog more than the lucky stiff.