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Blu-ray Review: Seven Chances

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The Film

When one thinks of the comic genius of Buster Keaton, it’s only natural for the mind to fixate on the elaborate, often dangerous, setpieces Keaton conceived, like the house-flattening cyclone in Steamboat Bill Jr. or the waterfall heroics in Our Hospitality. 1925’s Seven Chances features a scene that easily fits within the outsized Keaton stunts canon — a chase that climaxes in Keaton outrunning hundreds of huge boulders down a steep hill — but the film itself is more a study in the subtler Keaton charms.

Keaton plays Jimmie Shannon, a man unable to access his feelings all that successfully, and a prologue (in Technicolor!) explains that despite his love for his girl (Ruth Dwyer), he’s unable to bring himself to tell her. His hand is forced though by the reading of his grandfather’s will, which promises him $7 million, provided he’s married by 7 p.m. on his 27th birthday — that very night, naturally.

With the financial firm that he and his partner (T. Roy Barnes) own in dire straits, the fortune looks even more essential, and Jimmie rushes home to propose. Unfortunately, his stunted emotional progress ensures his offer doesn’t come out quite right, and the ensuing rejection means he has to find a willing bride in mere hours.

The situation seems to lend itself to all-out frenzy, but Keaton allows the film to gracefully build up to the inevitable chaos. The initially leisurely pace is underlined by a series of perfectly executed dissolves that feature Jimmie’s car instantaneously transported from one location to another. There’s no frantic driving, at least not yet.

Aided by his partner and their lawyer (Snitz Edwards), Jimmie surveys the country club for a willing mate in a gloriously low-key sequence that finds him enduring all manner of rejection and nearly inadvertently proposing to a minor.

The flip is switched when news of the impending fortune hits the papers, leading a mob of the homeliest women you’ve ever seen to pursue Jimmie. His panic overtakes the previously placid and sophisticated façade he was using to woo a bride, and the film settles in for a breathtaking extended chase. Initially resembling the urban chase of Keaton’s 1992 short Cops, this one balloons outside city limits, leading to the stunning and hilarious climactic boulder dodging.

Seven Chances showcases Keaton as brilliant technician and as wry observer of his character’s lacking social skills. It’s a masterwork of blending small-scale and large-scale comedy.

The Blu-ray Disc

Sourced from 35mm materials preserved by the Library of Congress, Kino’s 1080p high definition transfer preserves the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and gives the film a beautiful digital transfer, often stunning in its clarity. The film’s Technicolor opening is a patchwork effort, but the restoration pays off in approximating the original look, despite an unfortunate red flare on the left side of the image due to decomposition. The black-and-white remainder of the film features healthy amounts of detail and a sharp, film-like image beneath the surface marks and scratches.

Robert Israel’s occasionally too bombastic score is presented in an uncompressed stereo track and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track.

Special Features

Kino rounds up some solid extras for the disc, including two additional films — Three Stooges short A Brideless Groom, which features Shemp in a similar situation to Keaton, and 1904 Edison short How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the New York Herald Personal Columns, which mostly consists of a chase sequence that anticipates the one in Seven Chances.

John Bengtson shows up for another visual essay on the film’s shooting locations and he throws in some bits of additional trivia, while Eric Grayson explains the restoration process for the Technicolor sequence. The disc also features an audio commentary by historians Ken Gordon and Bruce Lawton, along with a small stills gallery.

The Bottom Line

Kino continues its run of must-own Keaton Blu-rays with its excellent disc of Seven Chances.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.