Cast & Crew
T. Roy Barnes
On the morning of his 27th birthday, James Shannon, a young lawyer neeeding money to save his partner from jail, is informed that he stands to inherit $7 million if he is married by 7 o'clock that evening. He proposes to his sweetheart, but she rejects him when he offends her by stating that he must marry a girl--any girl--in order to come into a fortune. He then sets out for the country club in the company of his partner and of the lawyer who first informed him of his windfall. The partner picks out seven girls at the club, and Jimmy proposes to each in turn, being refused by all of them. He then goes into town, proposing to everything in skirts, including a Scotsman. Meanwhile, the partner puts a story into the paper detailing Jimmy's predicament and advertising for a bride. Jimmy goes early to the church, falls asleep, and awakens to find the place full of brides. He escapes from them and runs into his sweetheart's Black handyman, who has come with a note forgiving him. Jimmy starts out for her house and is soon pursued by the large mob of outraged brides he left at the altar. After a wild chase, Jimmy arrives at his sweetheart's house just in time to be married on the stroke of 7.
T. Roy Barnes
Seven Chances (1925) - Seven Chances
As Keaton recalled it, he felt it was destined to flop, but was in no position to reject it. Keaton was married to one of the Hollywood's then-illustrious Talmadge sisters (actresses Constance, Norma and Natalie). Natalie was Keaton's wife and Norma was married to producer and studio mogul Joseph Schenck, who produced Keaton's films. Apart from family dynamics, Keaton owed Schenck money. Schenck, meanwhile, had paid $25,000 for film rights to David Belasco's Broadway comedy, adapted by Roi Cooper Megrue, and wanted to erase the red ink attached to the purchase. Keaton had seen it during its unsuccessful stage run in 1916. Even back then, it seemed to him a creaky, overly contrived farce about a young man who, in order to inherit a fortune, has to marry fast.
With misgivings, Keaton turned it over to his writing team - Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez and Joseph Mitchell. The problems were obvious. Firstly, the material is static and stage-bound. Secondly, related to the first, it confines Keaton, brings him inside from the outdoors, where his usual loner battling a hostile universe has fuller scope. Thirdly, it transforms him from an archetype, a persona, to a mere type - a fumbling twit, in this case a stockbroker who with his friend and business partner face ruin and jail as the result of a massive deal gone sour. Kept at arm's length from stoicism for most of the film's 56-minute running time, he's a helpless wreck, forced to resort to labored stage business before he can uncork the kind of inventiveness that put his films into orbit. His use of cars is only a small example of his creative stalling tactics. Sometimes he simply crashes when taking his eye off the road, as, for instance, when he desperately proposes to a woman driving a car alongside him. Sometimes, they're sublime, and a genuflection to his audiences' ability to handle the sheer surrealism he uncorks, as when we see him simply sitting in his roadster, and the backdrops are switched to denote travel from one location to another.
Much of the plot machinations in the early stages of Seven Chances involve him and his partner (T. Roy Barnes) dodging a visitor to their office, obviously a lawyer -- wizened, putty-nosed character actor Snitz Edwards, who Keaton liked enough to hire for two subsequent films: Battling Butler (1926) and College (1927). After too much bobbing and weaving, they learn that he isn't there to make their lives more difficult. Just the reverse. He has arrived with good news - Keaton's natty James Shannon stands to inherit seven million dollars. The catch in his dead grandfather's will is he must marry by 7 p.m. on his 27th birthday - which, not by coincidence, is that very day. He has a steadfast girlfriend, Mary (Ruth Dwyer), who has been patiently waiting (a sweet little montage showing her puppy growing to full maturity against backdrops of changing seasons lets us know how long) for him to pop the question. When he finally does, he gets it wrong, explaining that he wants her to marry him so he won't forfeit the money. She, disappointed that there's no mention of love in his proposal, sends him packing.
Re-enter his desperate partner. He drives Keaton to their country club and sets him loose on seven women (again seven!), prodding him to propose serially. He does it so badly and awkwardly that they all assume he's joking, and laugh him off. Although he's ready to give up, his partner isn't. He plants a story in the afternoon editions of the newspaper (this, remember, is back when cities not only had newspapers, but newspapers updated several times a day) saying that a bride must be found by 5 p.m., with all interested parties invited to show up at the Broad Street Church by then. Keaton's Jimmy half-heartedly allows himself to be taken there earlier in full nuptial regalia and promptly falls asleep in the front pew. Enter, handful by handful, the 500 female extras Keaton hired.
When Jimmy awakens, he discovers, to his mounting horror, that the church is stuffed with would-be brides decked out in calico, lace curtains, tablecloths and other improvised bridal wear, in addition to many in regulation garb, all riding a massive collective cloud of greed and hope. When the pastor arrives, he recoils, declares it all a monstrous joke. Then things get ugly. The 500 suddenly jilted women want blood. Jimmy escapes through a basement window with all of them in hot pursuit through the streets of Los Angeles and beyond. They trample a football game in progress and, later, a cornfield, but not before they commandeer a trolley. One inspired bit involves the horde passing a bricklayer at work. Not losing a step, they grab his bricks to throw at Jimmy until we see the bricklayer left scratching his head, wondering how he's going to complete his wall. Meanwhile, the stampede escalates and so does Keaton's inspiration - although it arrived in two stages.
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. But at a preview, Keaton added, they got lucky. Said Keaton: "Do you know, three little rocks saved me! Our fade-out was on me, running down the side of a hill, all those weirdos after me. A real dud, and we knew it. However, we previewed it. Medium laughs, a few giggles through all that chase. Then, suddenly, just before the fade, a real belly laugh. . . so we ran the ending slow at the studio. There it was. I had accidentally dislodged a rock. It started to roll after me. On its way, it knocked a couple more loose and there were three little rocks chasing me. . . So we went back and milked that gag. . . built a hundred and fifty rocks of papier-mache on chicken wire, from baseball size up to a boulder eight feet in diameter.
"We found a longer ridge, and. . . triggered them in sequence. We assembled the gals again, a hundred feet back and used a starter's gun. On your marks, get set, and bang! I only had to kick the first little one and then keep going. The key words are 'keep going' because it built up to an avalanche right on my heels. So naturally, I stumble - if it's not in the script, I stumble anyway - and the big one knocked me twenty feet in the air. When I staggered up and staggered on, it was for real."
That four-minute sequence rescues Seven Chances, compelling us to excuse the triteness that precedes it for the chance to partake of one of film's little miracles. That chase sequence, with Keaton literally improvising his nimble broken-field scamper through an avalanche of boulders, making Indiana Jones's escape from the Temple of Doom look like a walk in the park, is sight gag nirvana, and would be even if we didn't know that the Great Stone Face's switch from deadpan to stress (he was too cool to ever make terror a possibility) was prompted by actual on-the-ground circumstances.
If a preview gave Keaton the key to that inspired sequence, his instinct and unerring reflexes served the genius that made it happen. Even during his prosperous years, Keaton's films were usually out-grossed by Chaplin's and Harold Lloyd's, but it's in this sequence, as in so many others, that there's no mistaking the deeper bedrock on which his bleak, unplacating genius rests. Nobody so resilient can be thought a pessimist. But Keaton's world view is that of someone who expects no favors from the universe. There's something like a heroic dignity in even his pratfalls. Of how many among great silent clowns can it be said that he was embraced by surrealists and existentialists alike, glad to wait their turn alongside his lasting worldwide following?
Producer: Joseph M. Schenck; Buster Keaton (uncredited)
Director: Buster Keaton
Screenplay: Clyde Bruckman (Screen version); Jean Havez, Joseph Mitchell; David Belasco (play and adaptation); Roi Cooper Megrue (play)
Cinematography: Byron Houck, Elgin Lessley
Art Direction: Fred Gabourie
Music: Robert Israel (1995)
Film Editing: Buster Keaton (uncredited)
Cast: Buster Keaton (James 'Jimmie' Shannon), T. Roy Barnes (His partner Billy Meekin), Snitz Edwards (His lawyer), Ruth Dwyer (His girl Mary Jones), Frankie Raymond (Her mother Mrs. Jones), Erwin Connelly (The clergyman), Jules Cowles (The hired hand).
by Jay Carr
Keaton, by Rudi Blesh, Macmillan, 1966
Buster Keaton - Tgempoest in a Flat hat, by Edward McPherson, Newmarket Press, 2005
Keaton: The Man Who Wouldn't Lie Down, by Tom Dardis, W.H. Allen & Co., 1979
Seven Chances (1925) - Seven Chances
Seven Chances - SEVEN CHANCES - The Ultimate Edition of the 1925 Buster Keaton Comedy
The script is built on the kind of impossible contrivances that have been driving comedies for centuries. Keaton is James Shannon, a meek, sincere young lawyer too timid to ask his girl (Ruth Dwyer) for her hand, a situation made abundantly clear in a prologue that takes his courtship through the seasons. Then, just as he and his partner are in a serious (but only vaguely explained) financial bind, he's informed that his rich uncle died (as the cliché goes) and he's to inherit $7 million. The catch: he has to marry by 7 o'clock on his 27th birthday. I'll give you seven guesses as to what day on which this all occurs (hint: it's the afternoon of his 27th birthday). And, wouldn't you, after all that procrastinating, he trips over his non-proposal and ends up at the country club, where his business partner identifies the seven girls his know as James' "seven chances."
For all the sevens in this script, Keaton tosses the number aside as he builds momentum and James' shyness and social insecurity is overcome with each rejection, steeling him to become more brazen with each proposal. Before the sequence is over, he's asked every single girl in the place (including an unbilled, not-yet-famous Jean Arthur as the club receptionist; keep an eye out for the one who waves the ring on her finger in front of his face) and heads out to try his luck on the street.
This isn't the kind of pratfall slapstick or creative tangle with technology that we associate with Keaton but a kind of comic dance where he slides from partner to partner, making his pitch, taking each rebuff in stride and moving to the next. Some of these bits are deliciously choreographed steps, others born of Keaton's trademark earnest haplessness, overcoming his initial shyness and reticence and fear of humiliation as he soldiers on through variations on a theme. The purpose of the exercise is practically forgotten as James takes on the act of proposing itself as the challenge. Keaton the director pushes him into crazier situations and more brazen propositions and Keaton the screen performer meets them all with comic grace.
The film really takes off, however, in the third act, when James wakes up in the church, dressed in his tuxedo in a sea of predatory brides in white lace. Hell hath no fury than a horde of women scorned and James (who, by now, is really just another incarnation of the hapless Buster) takes off at a wild sprint (nobody runs with the gymnastic wild style of Keaton) with an army of bridal gown-clad women in hot pursuit, filling the screen like the whitecaps of an oncoming flood threatening to drown are tuxedoed hero.
The last act begins as a reprise of his short slapstick classic Cops, but made even more absurd by dropping scores of brides--complete with veils, trains and bouquets gripped in their pumping hands--in place of an army of police. From there Keaton sprints from one gag to the next until he tops himself by adding tumbling boulders to the equation, forcing Keaton to bob, weave, leap and duck as well as run.
Keaton is a master at such acrobatic comedy but its his startled deadpan reactions and distinctive double takes that push his inimitable mix of gymnastic physicality and crack timing into slapstick genius. Rather that stop to milk the reaction shot, he uses it to slingshot the gag into its next stage, shifting the sequence into even higher gear and throwing his entire body into the reaction.
Keaton treats much of the cast as simply animated props, to be sure. But the great cauliflower-faced Snitz Edwards (The Phantom of the Opera) carves out his own piece of the film as the dogged lawyer who tracks him down to deliver the will. And in an uncredited part, an otherwise unknown actress named Rosalind Byrne, playing a hat check girl under a sassy bob and a suspicious glare, matches Keaton laugh for laugh in a bit part involving a hat, a tip, and Keaton's continued indecision.
Between the proposals and the propulsive chase, Keaton also slips in an ingenious bit of cinematic transition. Climbing into his car to drive to the country club, he and the car remain stationary while the location around him dissolves to the next scene, at which point his calmly climbs out. He uses the same techniques he mastered in Sherlock Jr., applying surveyors equipment to perfectly position himself and the car in the frame in two different shots, but rather than the sudden shock of a cut in the former film, he uses a lap dissolve and his own nonchalant reaction to suggest the passing of time. The finished effect is seamless and all the more impressive given the tools at his disposal.
It's a one-joke film, for all that, with a simple narrative and character journey that lacks the narrative and creative richness of his greatest films, from Sherlock Jr. to The General. But Keaton creates so many ingenious, inventive, and hilarious variations on the joke that it sustains the film and builds that joke into one of the greatest and most hysterical comic set pieces in film history.
The new Kino edition is newly mastered from 35mm materials preserved by the Library of Congress and it includes a new restoration of the film's original, two-color Technicolor prologue restored by film historian Eric Grayson. This sequence, reconstructed and restored from multiple sources, is the most damaged of the film and the color looks weak by modern color standards, but it's as close to a true restoration of the original look as we are likely to see, right down to the odd hues of the two-strip color process itself.
The DVD and Blu-ray editions both feature a new score small combo by composer Robert Israel, plus commentary by film historians Ken Gordon and Bruce Lawton, a ten-minute visual essay on the film's locations by author John Bengtson, an analysis of the restored Technicolor sequence by Grayson (who speaks over a replay of the sequence, once as seen in the film, once showing all four source prints in separate quadrants to compare the state of the original materials), and two archival short films. The 1904 How the French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the New York Herald Personal Column, from the Edison Studios, illustrates the event that inspired the play, and A Brideless Groom, a Three Stooges short from 1947 co-written by Clyde Bruckman (who collaborated Seven Chances), recycles the premise in digest form with Shemp Howard in the Keaton role.
For more information about Seven Chances, visit Kino Lorber. To order Seven Chances, go to TCM Shopping.
by Sean Axmaker
Seven Chances - SEVEN CHANCES - The Ultimate Edition of the 1925 Buster Keaton Comedy
(looking at a list of possible brides) Who bats next?- Jimmie Shannon
The most famous scene of this film originated by an accident. In the filming of a chase scene down a steep slope, Buster Keaton inadvertantly dislodged some rocks which tumbled down after him as if in pursuit and he had to scramble to dodge them. At a preview showing, Buster saw that that accident got the biggest laughs in the film. Thus inspired, Buster decided to reshoot the scene with over a hundred papier-maiche "rocks" with sizes ranging from pebbles to six foot boulders so his character would have to deal with a massive avalanche in the scene.
In his desperate search for a woman -- any woman -- to marry, Keaton is passing a variety theatre. There is a large picture of a visiting artiste who is playing there, and Keaton bribes someone to let him go in at the stage door. As he goes in, a workman removes a box that was obscuring the bottom of the poster ... and we see the name of the "artiste" ... Julian Eltinge. Eltinge was a famous Female Impersonator, so famous that no further explanation is needed when Keaton almost immediately emerges, looking disconcerted.
A list of Bister's 'Seven Chances' includes the names Eugenia Gilbert, Judy King, Hazel Deane, and Bartine Burkett.
Roi Cooper Megrue's play and Jean Havez's screenplay were also the basis for the 1999 New Line release The Bachelor, directed by Gary Sinyor and starring Chris O'Donnell and Renée Zellweger.