Saturday, June 16, 2018

Stubs - Seven Chances

Seven Chances (1925) Starring: Buster Keaton, T. Roy Barnes, Snitz Edwards, Ruth Dwyer, Frankie Raymond, Jules Cowles, Erwin Connelly, Jean Arthur. Directed by: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline. Screenplay by Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez, Joseph A. Mitchell. Based on the play Seven Chances by Roi Cooper Megrue. Produced by Joseph M. Schenck, Buster Keaton. Runtime: 56 minutes. USA Black and White with Technicolor insert, Comedy, Silent

Sometimes films are made with the lowest of expectations. Consider Seven Chances, the 1925 silent comedy directed by and starring Buster Keaton. Originally a rather unsuccessful stage play of the same name by Roi Cooper Megrue, Joseph M. Schenck bought the film rights for $25,000 as a vehicle for either Keaton or one of the acting Talmadge sisters, Norma, Constance or Natalie. 

The play opened August 8, 1916, at the George M. Cohan's Theatre and closed in December after 151 performances. Buster Keaton, who saw the play during its original run, considered it a creaky, overly contrived farce. However, he owed Schenck money and had no choice but to make the film.  He turned the play over to his writers, Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez, Joseph A. Mitchell to take the static, stage-bound play and make something out of it.

Production got underway on September 16, 1924, with Jack McDermott directing. However, two weeks into the production McDermott left amicably, leaving Buster to direct the film. There was a short delay when he took over but production was completed on November 30, 1924. Seven Chances was shot at the Buster Keaton Studio located at 1025 Lillian Way as well as in and around Los Angeles, utilizing the streets around Greater Page Temple Church of God in Christ; Jefferson Boulevard & Arlington Avenue; and Chatsworth including Beale’s Cut, a natural formation once used as a stagecoach route and used in the films of John Ford, and D.W. Griffith. Keaton had also used the gap in his 1922 short, The Paleface.

Jimmy Shannon (Buster Keaton) and Mary Jones (Ruth Dwyer)
 at the beginning of their relationship. (Note: the small dog).

This film opens with an early technicolor insert (275 feet), showing the long courtship between Jimmy Shannon (Buster Keaton) and his girlfriend, Mary Jones (Ruth Dwyer). As the seasons pass and her dog grows, Jimmy cannot bring himself to tell her he loves her.

Seven Chances reverts to standard black and white as we see Jimmy with his partner, Billy Meekin (T. Roy Barnes) facing the financial ruin of their brokerage firm, Meekin and Shannon, as well as legal consequences. When a lawyer (Snitz Edwards) shows up at their firm, with news of a large inheritance for Jimmy, they initially try to dodge him, thinking that he is there to give Jimmy a subpoena or other court order. Even though he can see them in their office, he’s told by their secretary he’s not in. Determined to wait for them, the lawyer doesn’t leave.

Jimmy and his partner  Billy Meekin (T. Roy Barnes) listen to a lawyer
 (Snitz Edwards) as he reads Jimmy's grandfather's will.

They take solace at their Country Club and that is where the lawyer’s persistence finally pays off. Through the window of the dining room, he shows them the clause about the inheritance. They run after him, stopping the guards from walking him off the property. In the office at the club, the three finally sit down to review the document. It seems that Jimmy will inherit $7,000,000 from his grandfather if he’s married by 7 pm on his 27th birthday, which turns out to be that same day. Jimmy, of course, thinks of Mary and leaves to ask her.

This is one of the cases where the film gets inventive, using a technique from the brilliant Sherlock Jr. (1924). We see Jimmy get into the driver’s seat in the driveway of the Country Club and then the background changes and he is getting out in front of Mary’s home. The audience knows, without having to watch, that Jimmy has driven to her house.

Jimmy practices his proposal to Mary, who overhears and at first accepts.

After speaking with her mother, Frances Raymond, Jimmy goes to wait for her in the backyard. There he practices his proposal, which unbeknownst to him, Mary overhears and accepts. But, of course, the film can’t stop there and when Jimmy tries to explain why they have to get married that day, he makes her feel like it has less to do with love and more to do with convenience, saying things along the lines of any girl would do. Feeling less than special, Mary turns him down.

Jimmy returns to the Country Club and tells his partner and lawyer the bad news. Meanwhile, Mary and her mother discuss the proposal and her mother suggests Mary let Jimmy explain. She calls the Country Club and the receptionist, Miss Smith (Jean Arthur) puts the call through to the office, but the men don’t answer, assuming it is not for them.

Mary writes a note to Jimmy telling him not to marry anyone else and gives the note to their black Hired Hand (Jules Cowles in blackface) to deliver. Despite her plea to hurry, the Hired Hand’s horse plods along to make the delivery.

They make a list of names or Seven Chances and tick them off as they turn Jimmy down.

Meanwhile, The three go to the dining room of the Country Club to see if there are any suitable candidates for Jimmy to marry. Billy asks Jimmy if he knows any of the women and he writes down all seven chances. The list includes Eugenia Gilbert, Doris Deane, Judy King, Hazel Deane, Bartine Burkett, Connie Evans, and Pauline Toller the real names of the actresses who appear, and in the order, they do, in the film.

Jimmy's proposal to Second Chance (Doris Deane) gathers a crowd. 

First Chance (Eugenia Gilbert) laughs in Jimmy’s face, so loud in fact that the entire room can’t help but notice. Jimmy follows Second Chance (Doris Deane) outside to the edge of the golf course, where he gets down on one knee, only to be embarrassed by the crowd that gathers to watch. For his Third Chance (Judy King) he tries writing a note “Will You Marry Me” that he tosses to her in a mezzanine seat. She shreds the notes and the pieces fall down on Jimmy.

Jimmy tries to propose to his Third Chance (Judy King) by tossing a note up to her. She turns him down.

Billy takes it upon himself to handle the next proposal to Fourth Chance (Hazel Deane), who initially thinks it is Billy who is proposing. But when Billy insists its for a friend and points to where Jimmy had been standing and had walked away when he saw how chummy they were, she only sees the lawyer and refuses.

Billy asks Jimmy's Fourth Chance (Hazel Deane) who thinks he's proposing for the lawyer.

Jimmy fails with his Fifth Chance (Bartine Burkett), and Sixth Chance (Connie Evans) on the stairs, one on the way up and one going down. He follows Seventh Chance (Pauline Toller) into a telephone booth to get his final rejection from those women he knew. 

Following her rejection, Billy comes up with a plan and tells Jimmy to meet him at the Broad Street Church at five o’clock and he’ll provide the bride. On their way out, the lawyer turns to Jimmy and tells him to keep trying in case Billy fails and offers if there are two brides to marry the other one.

Thinking it might be his appearance, Jimmy goes to check out himself in a mirror. He looks at his reflection and then at himself. Meanwhile, a Black Man comes through the door, momentarily surprising Jimmy and he runs away.

Jimmy gets turned down by the Country Club's receptionist (Jean Arthur).

He next proposes to the Country Club receptionist (Jean Arthur), who shows him her own wedding ring before going back to her reading. On his way out, Jimmy draws a line through the Miss on her nameplate.

On his way out, Jimmy asks the hatcheck girl (Rosalind Byrne)

Next up, Jimmy goes to get his hat but the Hatcheck girl (Rosalind Byrne) waits for a tip before giving him his skimmer. When Jimmy sees one more candidate, he leaves the hat and takes back the tip. He starts into his spiel before realizing that the woman has a baby with her that she doesn’t want to part with to marry him. Back to hat check and before he can ask her his question she shakes her head no.

On his way out of the club, Jimmy stops again by the door with the mirror and out pops a girl who asks if anyone would want to marry her.  After fainting, Jimmy gets up and escorts her out. The seven chances are waiting for him outside and laugh at his misfortune. Their posture changes when Jimmy’s bride-to-be emerges and takes his arm.

But on the way to the car, the woman’s mother (Lori Bara) reveals that Jimmy’s bride to be is really just a child playing dress up. Embarrassed, Jimmy drives away as the Seven Chances laugh at him.

At a railroad crossing, the hired hand catches up to Jimmy. Holding up what he thinks is a stop sign, he is surprised Jimmy just keeps driving, narrowly missing a charging train. Turns out one side of the sign read STOP and the other side he was holding out toward Jimmy, read GO. 

Meanwhile, the man’s horse has taken off and he has to track it down.

On the road, an ever-desperate Jimmy pulls up to a woman in a car (Marion Harlan) but before he can get too far, he runs the car up a tree which is growing in the road.

Meanwhile, Billy and the lawyer go to The Daily News, an afternoon paper to place an ad, looking for a wife for Jimmy who will inherit $7 million.

Jimmy, now walking to the church, stops when he sees a woman reading a paper at a bus stop. He proposes but she doesn’t understand, since she apparently only know Hebrew, judging by her newspaper. Passed on the sidewalk by a woman, Jimmy is about to propose until he sees that she’s, in fact, Black and he backs off.

On his way to the church, Jimmy stops at a beauty parlor
where he mistakes a woman's head for a mannequin's.

Passing a beauty shop, Jimmy stops to watch the male beautician and is probably thinking of proposing to the customer when he sees that she is a mannequin and her head gets removed. He enters the shop and sees another woman in a chair and thinking she, too, is a mannequin tries to remove her head before realizing his mistake and running off.

Jimmy mistakes a female impersonator for a real woman.

Next, he passes a stage and sees the image of a woman on the advertisement. Tipping the stagehand, he goes into propose. While he’s inside, someone moves some boxes that cover up the name of the performer (Julian El Tinge), who at the time was a well-known female impersonator. When Jimmy emerges, his skimmer has been purposefully pulled down over his head so that the brim is around his neck. Jimmy takes back his bribe and walks away.

The church is empty when he arrives.

By the time Jimmy arrives at the Church, in top hat and tails and carrying flowers, he is exhausted. 
He settles into the front row pews and falls asleep. Meanwhile, women answering the ads, come to the church walking, driving cars, bikes, and train. And not only fill the pews but back out into the street. By the time, Jimmy wakes up, he is surrounded by bridesmaids wearing makeshift and real wedding dresses.

After a short nap, he's surrounded by potential brides.

When the minister (Erwin Connelly) sees all the gathered women he tells them that they’ve been pranked and to go home. This does not sit well with the mob of brides and they decide to take it out on Jimmy.

Under the church, Mary's Hired Hand (Jules Cowles
 in blackface) catches up to him with Mary's note.

He ends up taking shelter under the church where Mary’s Hired Hand finally catches up to him. 

Trying to learn the time isn't easy for Jimmy.

Seeing the note, he decides to go to her. Jimmy manages to get away but when he pulls out his pocket watch to read the time, it breaks from its chain and falls down the sewer drain. Trying to find the correct time proves difficult. The first person he asks the time, a bootblack, doesn’t have a watch on the end of his chain but rather a bottle opener. The woman whose shoes he’s shining has a watch on an anklet but when Jimmy tries to look she thinks he’s being fresh. Next stop, a clock shop but each one in the window is set to a different time. When he goes into the shop, the watch repairman’s own seems to have stopped as well. It is not until a drunk trying to sleep one off throws his alarm clock out the window, which hits Jimmy in the head, does he know that it is 6:15.

He tries to catch the trolley but it passes him by. Jimmy starts to walk down the center of the street towards Mary’s when he is spotted by some of the jilted brides, who are angry at the deception. They are joined by more and more brides and are almost upon him before he notices and starts running.

Jimmy runs for his life just ahead of angry mob of jilted brides.

When the mob passes a bricklayer building a wall, they pick the bricks clean and continue the chase.
Billy and the lawyer come upon Jimmy and the two run together for a spell. Jimmy tells him to have the ministers at Mary’s house and that he’ll meet them there. As they’re running, they run into another group of brides that take chase after Jimmy, leaving Billy and the lawyer to get trampled on by the rest of the pack.

Like a stampeding herd, nothing seems to stop the brides as they chase Jimmy through a football game leaving injured players in their wake.

Jimmy thinking he’s gotten ahead of them slows down, only having to accelerate when he see’s another group coming towards him from a side street. The women commandeer a street car, throwing the driver and conductor off, as they continue their chase.

Jimmy tries to take refuge in a Turkish Bath but it turns out to be Ladies Day.

Jimmy manages to grab the spare tire on a car and rides that until it gets involved with a trolley driven by brides. He tries to take refuge in a Turkish Bath but it turns out to be ladies day so the chase continues.

Jimmy makes a run for it down LaSalle.

He tries to blend in with a police regiment that is marching down the street picking up and depositing beat cops. But when they see the approaching wave of brides, they run away, leaving Jimmy marching alone.

Jimmy tries to grab a cab but there is a bride in there as well. She grabs ahold of him and only lets go when she falls into a ditch. Jimmy doesn’t know what to do but runs as the workmen from the ditch jump out and seek shelter.

Jimmy escapes a mob of angry would-be brides by grabbiing onto a crane.

When he finds an iron works, Jimmy runs inside only to be chased inside by the mob. A crane pulls him to safety but a bride commandeers it from the operator. She can’t figure out the controls and instead of lowering him back down, she swings him over the fence next to the railroad tracks.  When the crane lowers he jumps to safety, but the women inside think he’s been killed when a train comes roaring by. They’re all sad and crying until he walks by. Anger returns and they take chase again.

Meanwhile, at Mary’s house, Billy, the lawyer, Mary, her mother and the minister are waiting.

Now out in the country, the brides chase Jimmy through a cornfield, demolishing it as they run through. Jimmy runs through a barbed wire fence and into an apiary where a beekeeper is tending to the hives. But Jimmy and the brides knock most of them over, making the bees angry. When he stops to free himself from the barbed wire, a bull chases him back through the apiary. The bees chase him to the water’s edge, where Jimmy commandeers a boat.

Jimmy is in an awkward position when he spies a bull watching him.

But the water doesn’t impede the chase and eventually, Jimmy has to make a swim for it. On the other side of the river, he discovers that he’s picked up a turtle on his tie. When he stops to pull that off, he’s in the sightline of duck hunters who fire their guns in his direction.

Jimmy makes a leap while on the run.

Finally, he’s chased to the edge of the wilderness and when he runs up the side of a hill, the leader of the brides takes them another way to cut him off.  He jumps over the Beal Cut, rides a tree that is cut down from a cliff to the ground. Throws himself down a sandy hillside before he ends up dislodging some rocks.

Jimmy throws himself down a sandy hillside.

Small rocks cause larger ones to move and pretty soon there is an avalanche of rocks chasing Jimmy down a long and steep hillside. This is perhaps the most memorable sequence in the film. The rocks scatter the brides who have taken their shortcut, finally freeing Jimmy for a last-gasp run to Mary’s house, over one car and under another. When he gets to Mary’s house, his coat gets caught in the gate. Unable to free himself, he breaks the gate off from the fence and drags into the house.

A snippet of the sequence of Jimmy being chased by rocks of all sizes.

When Jimmy arrives, Billy checks his watch. Jimmy appears to be too late as it is now a few minutes past seven. But when the church clock shows there are few minutes to spare, Jimmy runs back in and the wedding ends just as the clock strikes seven.

Jimmy has until 7 to get married.

Everyone but Jimmy kisses the bride so he takes her outside. But before he can kiss her, the dog, now even bigger gets in between them.

Jimmy wants to kiss his bride but the dog gets in the way.

The film had its New York premiere on March 15, 1925, and went into general released the next day on March 16, 1925. The would be another success for Keaton, making $598,288 domestically.

While many may not consider this to be one of Buster Keaton’s masterpieces, compared to Sherlock Jr or The General (1926), this is still very funny and inventive especially considering that the director and star were not fond of the story, to begin with.

Like his contemporaries, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd there is a sense of improvisation. That they seemed to take every opportunity to make the film better, whether taking advantage of locale or situation. Did someone see the potential for a crane at the metal works or was that part of the script? 

As the viewer, you’re not sure because it seems natural in its way.

One scene that was added to after the film was finished was the boulder scene.  Keaton told his biographer, Rudi Blesh, that they had decided to end Seven Chances with a fade-out on the chase, not being able to think of anything to top it. However, at a preview screening, Keaton noticed that during the fade out, the few laughs the chase had gotten turned into a real belly laugh.

Running the film slowly back at the studio, they noticed that the laughs coincided when Keaton accidentally dislodged a rock that dislodged three other rocks, all of which were chasing Keaton down the hill. They decided to milk the gag for bigger laughs, building about 150 papier-mache rocks on chicken wire, ranging in size from a baseball to eight-feet in diameter. Using a longer ridge and kicking them off in a sequence they created a four-minute sequence that sort of saves the film and one of the greatest sight gags in cinematic history.

For some reason, there is nothing more fascinating to watch than Keaton running, which he does throughout the film. I’m not sure how much of it is due to hand cranking and how much of it is his pure speed. He just seems to move faster than anyone has a right to.

There are other actors in the film but the only one that really counts is Keaton. The role played by T. Roy Barnes could have been played by practically anyone. A British actor, Barnes had appeared in over 50 films in a career that lasted from 1920 to 1935. While he appeared mostly in comedies, here he’s pretty much the straight man.

Snitz Edwards, born Edward Neumann in Budapest, Hungary, emigrated to the US where he had a successful career on the Broadway stage and in Hollywood. Never a star, Edwards was a character actor, appearing in such films as The Thief of Bagdad (1924), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), College (1927) and The Public Enemy (1931).

Ruth Dwyer, the love interest in the film, had a 20-year plus career in films, but never really received immortality. She is all right but nothing spectacular. However, the same cannot be said for Jean Arthur, who has an uncredited role as the Country Club receptionist in this film. Arthur was very near the start of a film career that would include such films as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can't Take It with You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), A Foreign Affair (1948) and Shane (1953).  Here her part as the receptionist is like that of T. Roy Barnes, anyone could have played it.

The story, unsurprisingly, has been remade though not to the same success as this film. Clyde Bruckman would rework the story for The Three Stooges twice, once as Brideless Groom (1947) and Husbands Beware (1956), the latter of which cannibalized the former. The French made their own version, The Suitor (1962) Directed by and starring Pierre Étaix. Hollywood would come back to the story with The Bachelor (1999) with Chris O'Donnell and Renée Zellweger, which turned out to be a minor hit.

Seven Chances received mixed reviews when it was first released but is one of those films that has grown in stature as the years have passed. It is funny, innovative, and smart, which never gets old. If you haven’t seen Seven Chances, then you should see it. If you’re a fan of Buster Keaton, and you should be, it is worth watching again. 

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