Kino Classics continues giving Buster Keaton's films the Ultimate Edition treatment with the recent release of 'Seven Chances' on Blu-ray. It is based on a 1916 play written by Roi Cooper Megrue and, as stated in the extras, Keaton wasn't too keen on the idea when it was first brought to him, but he and his team of screenwriters (Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez, and Joseph Mitchell) found a way to make it his own with visual gags that transferred the story from the stage to the screen.
The film opens with a sequence shot on two-strip Technicolor that shows the mild courtship over a year between shy Jimmie Shannon (Buster Keaton) and Mary Jones (Ruth Dwyer). Keep an eye on her dog for a good laugh.
In a timely storyline even though nearly a century has gone by, Jimmie and his partner William Meekin (T. Roy Barnes) run a brokerage firm that "had been tricked into a financial deal that meant disgrace – and possibly prison – unless they raised the money quickly" as a title card reveals. While nervous over their prospects, Fate steps in when attorney Caleb Pettibone (Snitz Edwards) informs Jimmie that his grandfather has left him $7 million, providing he's married by 7 p.m. on the day of his 27th birthday which coincidentally just so happens to be this day, leaving him only a few hours to spare.
Not being too smooth with the ladies, Jimmie bungles his proposal to Mary and fails to find a taker from the seven women (the "chances" from the film's title) he knows at the country club. His partner decides to put an ad in the paper as a last resort, not fully realizing how many women would be interested when he included the inheritance amount. This leads to an elaborate and very funny chase sequence through the streets and hills of Los Angeles that had so many extras take part some male actors were dressed as women. With so many women fighting to be his bride, it's hard to imagine how Jimmie will get to the altar with just one.
Stonefaced Keaton does a very good job as actor and director in his sixth feature film, considering he's in almost every scene. Although not as dangerous as it looks, he surely risked injury for some of the stunts. His influence is evident in people like Jackie Chan.
'Seven Chances' is a product of its time seen in the awkward racial material. A Caucasian actor in blackface plays the Hired Hand who works for Mary's family. Not sure why since other African Americans are seen in the film elsewhere. There's also a moment that will likely seem odd for most modern viewers. Early on in his desperation to find a wife, Jimmie approaches a woman from behind only to discover she's African American, resulting in him making a face of disappointment. It seemed like a strange reaction until I learned 30 out of the then 48 states had miscegenation laws on the books. Although I came to understand the "joke," knowing the context doesn't help because it's even more depressing.
With a runtime of 56 minutes and its simple plot, modern viewers will likely find 'Seven Chances' feels more like a two-part sitcom, but that's not meant to diminish the quality of the film. While the pacing of the first half moves a little slowly, the chase sequence during its conclusion is why it's so memorable and worth seeing.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Seven Chances' is a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a clear keepcase housed inside a cardboard slipcase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
Even after being restored, the opening Technicolor sequence shows demonstrative damage. There's a red flare on the left side of the frame from nitrate decompositions, which is understandable after seeing 'About the Technicolor Sequence.' The extra shows how the nitrate Technicolor print has turned orange, so it's amazing that anything was generated from it, which earns an extra point.
The rest of the film shows a more stable, cleaned-up image with occasional and expected wear and age marks of scratches and white specks. There are a few frames missing. Rather than looking black and white, there's a slight sepia tint so the intended blacks look brown.
The image reveals very good depth and detail. The exteriors filled with brides show good separation of objects, as the women don't bleed into each other. Textures also come through clearly, from the walls of Jimmie's office to the runaway boulders, the latter of which give away a bit of the illusion. There's a good amount of film grain and the video looks free of any digital artifacts.
Composer Robert Israel leads a small orchestra, which can be heard in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or PCM 2.0 stereo. The 5.1 track fills the surround speakers and the subwoofer adds a little extra bass to the proceedings. Aside from sounding so pristine, the ragtime-influenced score comes across as authentic to the film's era. The different instruments are distinct. The high pitch sound of the twinkling of the piano keys to the low sounds of the bass demonstrate the track's good dynamics as does the softly played flute and the loud organ heard as the women file into the church to meet Jimmie.
Fans of Buster Keaton will be very pleased to see the work done to preserve and bring 'Seven Chances' to Blu-ray. Those who don't know the film or the man should take a chance on it because he is one of the greatest comedic actors/directors not just of the silent era, but all time.