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Seven Chances (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 8, 2011 by  



“Seven Chances” is Buster Keaton’s fifth feature film and is a romantic comedy that is delightful, fun and exciting!  Featuring one of the coolest chase scenes to be featured in early American cinema but also featuring Buster Keaton continuing to raise the bar in risky, physical comedy.  Another magnificent Buster Keaton Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber!  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2011 Kino Lorber, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Seven Chances

FILM RELEASE: 1925

DURATION: 56 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Technicolor, color-tinted and B&W, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

Release Date: December 13, 2011

Directed by Buster Keaton

Adapted from David Belasco’s comedy by Roi Cooper Megrue

Screen Version by Clyde Bruckman, Jean C. Havez, Joseph A. Mitchell

Cinematography by Byron Houck, Elgin Lessley

Art Direction by Fred Gabourie

Starring:

Buster Keaton as James Shannon

T. Roy Barnes as William Meekin, his partner

Snitz Edwards as Caleb Pettibone, his lawyer

Ruth Dwyer as Mary Jones, his girl

Frances Raymond as Mrs. Jones, her mother

Erwin Connelly as the Clergyman

Jules Cowles as the Hired Hand

This dazzling comedy showcases Keaton’s genius for super-sized slapstick as it tells the story of an eligible young bachelor who must marry by 7:00 p.m. in order to receive a $7 million inheritance. After bungling a proposal to his longtime sweetheart (Ruth Dwyer), Jimmie (Keaton) embarks on a desperate quest for a bride. He experiences a hilarious series of rejections, until a newspaper announcement of Jimmie’s predicament provides him with more fiancées than he can handle, setting in motion the most epic and surreal chase sequence of Keaton’s career.

In 1925, Buster Keaton created a film adaptation of Roi Cooper Megrue and David Belasc0 play “Seven Chances”.  His fifth feature film and identified by many of his fans as possibly his best romantic comedy film ever made.

While film critics were a bit split because it was an adaptation which featured several writers responsible for the screenplay, while a simple story that is introduced in the beginning and concluded at the end, it’s the middle…the main storyline which features one of the craziest chase scenes ever featured onscreen at the time, and quite timeless even today nearly 90-years later.

While the film would also feature a cameo role by future screwball comedy princess Jean Arthur, the film is also quite notable for its use of a very early Technicolor process at the beginning of the film which was recently restored by Kino for this 2011 Blu-ray release.

“Seven Chances” is a film that begins with Jimmy Shannon (played by Buster Keaton) as we see him wanting to tell his girlfriend Mary Jones (played by Ruth Dwyer) that he loves her, unfortunately as seasons come and go, it’s something he has been unable to do.

But Jimmy and his financial brokerage firm business partner, Billy (played by T. Roy Barnes), are suffering from major financial problems and they will need to raise enough capital to keep afloat and nothing is looking good for both men.  That is until Jimmy learns from his grandfather’s lawyer (played by Snitz Edwards) that he is left seven million dollars, but there is one condition, he must be married by 7:00 p.m. on his 27th birthday.

This is the only way both men can rescue their reputations and this money can help both of them, but first, Jimmy must get married.

Unfortunately, when he proposes to Mary, he makes it sound like he is marrying her only for the inheritance and not for love.  And because he has not confessed his love for her yet, she doesn’t know how he really feels about her.

So, as Mary is unable to marry her, she has second thoughts after talking to her mother and overhears a conversation between Jimmy, Billy and his lawyer of how much he loves her, money or no money.  Hearing that, validates her love for Jimmy and she is ready to marry him.  Unfortunately, the men are unable to hear her on the other line and thus a plan goes into effect, Jimmy must find a wife as soon as possible.

While Mary tries to stop Jimmy from marrying anyone but her, Jimmy begins his journey of finding a wife and taking chances on whoever he can meet.

But unfortunately, not many women are too keen on the idea of marrying a stranger and so Billy comes up with an idea.  To put a story in the local newspaper that Jimmy needs a wife to inherit seven million dollars and whoever is up to the task, will be his wife.  All they have to do is meet with him at a local church.

And as Jimmy awaits for whoever will show up, what he doesn’t expect are possibly a hundred or more women showing up and filling up the church.  Women of all ages and sizes wanting their chance to marry Jimmy.  And immediately, Jimmy is scared and begins panicking, that all he can do is run.

And thus, the chase featuring hundreds of women as they try to catch Jimmy throughout Los Angeles in hopes they can marry him and be his wife.  Meanwhile, his true love Mary awaits for him with Billy and the lawyer in hopes that Jimmy will marry her.  But as the clock continues to tick and nears 7:00 p.m., will Jimmy get married in time in order to get his inheritance?

VIDEO:

“Seven Chances” is presented in 1080p High Definition and the film looks absolutely beautiful on Blu-ray!  But first, let first preface with discussion of the introductory Technicolor scene.

“Seven Chances” was a film that utilized early Technicolor for the introduction and before this Blu-ray release, the Technicolor portion was in bad shape and degraded to the point that many people who saw the film felt it was color tinting combined with Nitrate damage on the sides.  And then the US Registry has their own version of the intro which is in black and white, so there were people who were unaware of the Technicolor process that was used and thought it was just bad color tinting and Nitrate issues with the original print.

For this 2011 Blu-ray release, according to a special feature included with this Blu-ray release, film historian Eric Grayson talked about how the scene was remade by Kino to keep it as close as what people have watched back in 1925.  With newer technology, they were able to restore the early Technicolor introduction and it literally took 80 hours to fix 3 minutes of footage.  Sure, the Nitrate damage is still there in the introduction but now you can tell it is an early Technicolor process and not bad color tinting.  But it’s great to see Kino having redo those scenes, especially utilizing the best source material out there to recreate it.

With that being said, “Seven Chances” uses the restoration mastered from 35 mm materials preserved by the Library of Congress.  While there are a few white specks from time-to-time, the clarity of the film is absolutely beautiful and for those who owned Kino’s “The Art of Buster Keaton” DVD box set and watched “Seven Chances”, there were many scenes, especially during the outdoor sequences that really never registered to me as a viewer because it looked quite blurry, but with this Blu-ray releae, you can actually make out grass, leaves, water, etc. Especially the contour of objects.  The detail of this Blu-ray release compared to the older Kino DVD release is noticeable and definitely an example to silent film fans of why upgrading to Blu-ray from the older DVD is worth it!

There is a good amount of grain on video but its the detail and clarity that is possibly the highlight of this Blu-ray release.  The contrast is great and black levels are deep and for the most part, the film via HD looks fantastic!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

For the release of “Seven Chances”, Kino has kept to the wonderful score by Robert Israel and we are given the LPCM 2.0 stereo score (which was featured on the original DVD release) but also a brand new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack.   The score actually sounds wonderful via lossless, absolute clarity and definitely a major difference from the original stereo track that I watched the film on DVD nearly a decade ago.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Seven Chances” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Audio commentary by film historian Ken Gordon and Bruce Lawton who give us an idea of the time period that “Seven Chances” was shot in and comparisons to Chaplin and Harold Lloyd films.
  • A Brideless Groom – (16:48) In 1947, the “Three Stooges” remade Seven Chances, not surprising as “Seven Chances” co-writer Clyde Burkman worked on this “Three Stooges” short.
  • How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the New York Herald Personal Columns – (9:44) A 1904 Edison short showcasing a similar style of story to “Seven Chances”.
  • Tour of Filming Locations – (10:17) John Bengston, author of “Silent Echoes” and well-known for visiting filming locations for Keaton, Chaplin and Lloyd films, showcases how various locations where “Seven Chances” was shot looks like now.
  • About the Technicolor Sequence – (6:15) Film historian Eric Grayson talks about the restoration process of the early Technicolor scene for “Seven Chances”.
  • Stills – Featuring a gallery of 16 stills.

EXTRAS:

“Seven Chances” comes with a slipcase.

I can remember the first time I watched “Seven Chances” and literally seeing hundreds of women out on the street of Los Angeles as they tried to chase down and catch the character of Jimmy, played by Buster Keaton.

For the most part, Keaton’s classic film “Seven Chances” can be seen as not deep as his previous films because the premise of the story is rather easy to follow.  Man needs money, many has a chance of inheritance but must get married, so man needs to find a wife to get inheritance before 7:00 p.m.

Keaton’s style of making sure the beginning and the end were worked out by the writers, what he needed to complete on his own was the entire middle section of the film.  Where people would gasp at the stunts or whatever he would bring to the big screen.

While D.W. Griffith was a filmmaker who loved using hundreds of extras in his film, Buster Keaton loved utilizing masses.  As he did in “Go West” with dozens upon dozens of cattle walking through the streets of Los Angeles, this time around, it’s over a hundred women who wanted to marry the character Jimmy.

And like other Keaton films shot around that time, as a filmmaker and actor trying to raise the bar of how much risk he can take in creating the best stunts on film, one stunt featured Keaton dangling from a mechanical fork lift, another featuring the actor jumping from short cliffs to a large tree that falls to the ground after being cut by a logger.

But possible the most visual scene in cinema was Keaton running downhill but this time not being chased by women, but boulders.  Sure, the boulders were specially made but according to Buster Keaton, these boulders were so large that they could hurt someone if they weren’t being careful.  According to Robert K. Klepper, “The Golden Era of Silents 1877-1996”, Keaton’s body was covered by bruises for weeks because of the filming of this chase sequence.

While film critics were inundated with actors doing these stunts, while Buster Keaton was a marvel in doing his own stuntwork, it was part of the banality of silent films as others like Chaplin, Lloyd, Fairbanks and others were doing physical work onscreen in order to entice their viewers.

And suffice to say, the stunts done by Buster Keaton were risky but how awesome do they look onscreen.  Wonderful, physical comedy, risky and amazing and from the hundreds of women in the chase scene, to those hundreds of boulders falling down hill and heading towards Keaton’s character, how thrilling was a scene like that.  And the fact that it does last a long time, it’s definitely one of my favorite chase scenes in a film!

And I believe that is why a film like “Seven Chances” is so intriguing for us today.  Unlike those filmmakers who were bombarded with action sequences in silent cinema back in the day, for us, many of these scenes are done via stunt men and large crowds are now created in CG.  Watching “Seven Chances” was intriguing in the fact that you see so many people utilized in one film but also, to see a part of Los Angeles that while the streets and some buildings are still around, they looking nothing like what we see in this film.

This film is a great time stamp to an era of what once was of early Hollywood or Los Angeles.  “Seven Chances” for me, was more than just a comedy film but that captured the look and feel of Los Angeles in 1925 but also the pop culture fashion and hairstyles of women during the 1920’s.  And because there were a good number of women featured in this film, it was rather interesting to see those styles come to play.  May it be the dapper teen that was about to get married to Jimmy, to the women with the Louise Brooks hairstyle.  For me, as a silent film fan, I’m drawn into the historic pop culture of that era and “Seven Chances” does capture that moment in time quite well.

As for the Blu-ray release, the picture quality of “Seven Chances” is fantastic.  Especially if you compared it to the original DVD release, watching the film in HD definitely made a big difference that I feel that for many silent film fans who have not wanted to stray from Blu-ray because they can’t see a difference, well…watch this film and compare it to the older Kino DVD and you can see a difference in quality!  As for the lossless audio, Robert Israel’s score is magnificent via DTS-HD MA 5.1 but it would have been nice to have another musical score.

But I’m quite appreciative of the special features included with this release.  I would have never expected to see a “Three Stooges” short on Blu-ray let alone on this Blu-ray release, but I was pretty happy about that.  Also, for a film that showcases so many locations, I am so grateful that Kino once against featured John Bengston’s visual essay.   And of course, you get more features including audio commentary as well.

Overall, “Seven Chances” may be a shorter Buster Keaton feature film than others that were previously released on Blu-ray, but it’s definitely one of his most delightful romantic comedies that he had partaken in.  Also, for those who love Buster Keaton’s risky stunts, “Seven Chances” doesn’t disappoint in that either because this film required a lot from Buster Keaton in terms of physical comedy. And last, “Seven Chances” features one of the coolest chase scenes ever featured in early American cinema.

Once again, another magnificent Buster Keaton on Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber!






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