Seven Chances (1925)

11 Jun
Seven Chances (1925)

A clown in his natural habitat: solitude.

You will, I hope allow me to wax rhapsodic.

I’m always happiest with silents like Seven Chances (to be shown on TCM late, late Thursday, June 13 at 4:30 a.m.) in their dearth of intertitles. The job is done in the camera; not just the effects (ah! the dissolve with the car!), but the telling of the tale and the building of each gag. I’ve heard people speak of Keaton as a master of “composition” of shots, which is a lovely cinematic term and all, but it’s about the gag, which is, I think, vital to remember. He’s not a painter – he’s an engineer. He’s a liner-up of dominoes, then a displayer of domino configurations, and most of all, a flicker of dominoes. (I reserve that phrase for the title of my novel, by the way: A Flicker of Dominoes.)

I think it’s important not to treat Keaton as a traditional artist, but as an instinctual master. Not that he was without an unfathomable amount of craft, but that he seemed to employ it (when he talked about it) with very little traditional terminology. One more damn thing to admire him for. The utter lack of preciousness but still total commitment to his work.

The lawyer is Snitz Edwards (whom I think of as Putty Nose from The Public Enemy). The Wife and I decided that his name sounds rather like the sort of thing a mother might yell at a wayward child in lieu of “Nosey Parker” or “Pinky Lee” or the whatever your mother might have used as circumstances dictated. “Alright, there, Snitz Edwards – where’s the fire?”

While we’re talking about people who aren’t Buster…sigh. Let’s talk about the character called only The Hired Man…or, I don’t know. Maybe let’s not. We know how this is going to go; any aficionado of classic film has to deal with this sort of thing. Of Its Time, etc. It still makes me cringe, but the pleasures are worth cringing through for me. Rather than a) pretending it isn’t happening or b) reiterating needlessly, I highly recommend Black Like You by John Strausbaugh.

Somewhat more than seven

Somewhat more than seven.

I am a fan of women. My closest friends are and always have been women, my favorite relatives are women; I even married one. But I once made the mistake of walking blithely into a packed Filene’s Basement on the day when the previous season’s wedding gowns were put on sale. I felt every neck snap toward me as I entered – I’m pretty sure a few dresses were being purchased on spec – and I have to tell you…I felt what can only by described as Fear. And the famous would-be-brides chase brings that back for me. And all comedy requires a bit of Fear, no?

The bride chase, though, is something to see and love, not discuss – though it’s worth mentioning that for 7 million 1925 dollars, one can hardly blame the bridal posse for its tenacity, locust-like though it be. But let’s talk about those boulders. Man. Those boulders. I know intellectually how it was achieved. The information is out there. But it’s so…I mean, they look like papier-mâché boulders. And yet their motion is impossible, like a W.C. Fields pool shot exponentially increased in scale. It’s so beautiful.

I’m not sure if TCM shows the introductory Technicolor sequence when it airs this – it’s on the Kino blu-ray – but it’s worth seeking out if they don’t.

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One Response to “Seven Chances (1925)”

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  1. Looking Forward: This Week | I Humbly Suggest... - July 9, 2013

    […] Essentials Jr.), Seven Angry Men (Raymond Massey perfectly cast as John Brown), Buster’s classic Seven Chances, and Seven Samurai, but my particular interest is in the Max Linder silent Seven Years Bad Luck, […]

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