Comedy / Silent
56 min / 1925
This Buster Keaton classic is a silent film, so instead of asking my kids if they wanted to see it, I just popped it in and started watching on my ownsome in the family room. And, as I expected, it didn’t take long for them to sit down beside me. I think it was the otherworldliness that got them. This is unlike anything they’ve seen before, from another time, all black and white, with dialogue you read and music that’s so well matched to what’s on-screen that it’s almost like they can talk.
Keaton stars as Jimmie Shannon, a down-on-his-luck businessman who has long wanted to marry his sweetheart, Mary Jones, except he doesn’t have the money to support them. And, to make matters worse, his boss has been tricked into “a financial deal that meant disgrace – and possibly prison – unless they raised money quickly.” So Jimmie is as down as down can be.
That’s when the lawyer shows up with news that Jimmie’s grandfather has given him seven million dollars… on the condition that Jimmie is married by 7 pm on his 27th birthday! Jimmie’s problems are solved: he can marry his girl and keep everybody out of jail! But today is his birthday, so off he rushes to propose. Sadly, poor Jimmie muffs it, making it sounds like the reason he wants to marry Mary is just so he can get the money. She refuses!
The distraught Jimmie has no interest in marrying anyone now, but is pressured by his partner to marry someone, anyone just to keep them out of jail. The partner makes a list of seven names – seven chances – for Jimmie to try. And when Jimmie foolishly does, he gets laughed right out the door. But that partner isn’t finished: he tells the newspaper about the story, and effectively takes out an ad for ladies interested in marrying a millionaire to meet him at the church. When several hundred show up, the chase is on, and for the next ten minutes we get to watch as Keaton jumps, leaps, slides, and runs, runs, runs for his life!
This is an old film and with that comes a couple of concerns. With Jimmie seemingly willing to propose to just about anyone, we see him approach a woman from behind, only to veer off when he discovers she’s black. It’s a quick few seconds and kids may not even notice the racism here, but if they do, then you can talk about the way things were back then.
The bigger caution is the film’s premise: marrying for money. This was remade in 1999 as The Bachelor, and it bombed, probably because. by adding color, sound, lots more dialogue, and a star who gave a restrained performance, they made it almost believable. And this is only funny as a farce. If anybody would actually marry someone for money, that’d be a sad creepy story. The original remains hilarious precisely because it stars a clown no one could ever find believable.
I encourage you to rent this, or get it from your library, even though many free copies can be found online. It is so old it’s in the public domain, free for anyone to republish, but most of those free versions are grainy or have a soundtrack that’s nothing more than random selections of classical music. The very best version is KINO’s, which pairs a crisp picture with music that matches the action perfectly. It makes a huge difference!
So who would like this? I’ve tested it on pre-teens and skeptical 20 and 30-year-olds too, and while it took them all a few minutes to warm to it, by the end everyone was giving it the thumbs up. They appreciated the hijinks and some also enjoyed the education: this is what film was like way back when, and Seven Chances is one of the rare gems that still hold up today.
You can watch the trailer below.