Jimmie Shannon (Buster Keaton) would like to tell Mary Jones (Ruth Dwyer) that he loves her, but he's never been able to pluck up the courage, and as time goes by, he is beginning to miss his opportunity to admit it. Especially as financially, he is in a bind, as his business is threatened with legal difficulties through a fraudster that could make him bankrupt or even land him in jail, therefore in no position to be wed. But there may be hope for him yet, as one day at the office he is consulting with his partner Billy Meekin (T. Roy Barnes) about their increasingly dire circumstances, and Jimmie's lawyer (Snitz Edwards) shows up with a very important message to give him about his late grandfather's will. It takes him a while to gain Jimmie's attention, but it is well worth it...
Or it would be if our hero could catch a break, which being a Buster Keaton movie will not necessarily happen until the movie is almost over, but that battling against hardship was important to the appeal of the silent comedian. He had some hardship in real life creatively here as well; his producer at MGM (the studio that was to prove his professional undoing) demanded Keaton make a movie out of a stage farce they had bought, and Keaton was reluctant, to say the least, not feeling as if it was a good fit for his style. For that reason, there's a too-slow, too mild build-up to the second half, which was where you got the good stuff, since in the first half he had to go along with whatever was asked of him, and it was a basic set of romantic misunderstandings that any lesser comic could do.
Our man was not a lesser comic, and it was slightly jarring to see him doing racial gags in a film that included a white man playing a caricatured black character in makeup, which given Keaton was always happy to cast actual African Americans in his films albeit in smaller roles, you cannot imagine was his idea - you will notice this manservant of Mary’s character disappears once the film finds its feet in the second half. That was down to Keaton asserting his creative control in that part, as he embraced the lunatic possibilities of the premise, which was that Jimmie must get married by seven o'clock that evening or lose his $7 million inheritance, and the woman he had his heart set on - Mary - is insulted because she thinks all he cares about is the money, so turns him down. He still needs that money, however.
This was what led to the extended finale, where a news story in that day's paper suggests any willing bride who shows up at the church will be able to marry Jimmie, Billy not realising this results in seven hundred (!) would-be brides showing up, who then proceed to chase Jimmie across town either in revenge or to get his inheritance. Yes, it was similar to what Keaton had achieved with the policemen in his classic short Cops, but the fact these were women gave this a charge stemming from the protagonist's fear of commitment and opening up emotionally – this is literally his worst nightmare. It was an ingenious way to end, but that was not all, as Keaton added the rock slide finale where in scenes of incredible agility he avoids being crushed by huge boulders: to watch Keaton run at full tilt is to see one of the joys of the silent age. He actually didn't like Seven Chances because so much of it was out of his hands as far as ideas went but warmed to it in his autumn years when he understood that concluding chase was nothing less than glorious. Slow to start, but stick with it.
[Eureka release this as part of their Buster Keaton: 3 Films Vol 2 box set - The Navigator, Seven Chances and Battling Butler - and here are the features:
• Limited Edition Hardbound Slipcase [3000 copies ONLY]
• 1080p presentations of all three films from the Cohen Film Collection's stunning 4K restorations, with musical scores composed and conducted by Robert Israel
• The Navigator - Audio commentary by silent film historians Robert Arkus and Yair Solan
• Seven Chances - Brand new audio commentary by film historian Bruce Lawton
• New and exclusive video essay by David Cairns covering all three films
• The Navigator - A short documentary on the making of the film and Keaton’s fascination with boats as sources of comedy, by film historian Bruce Lawton
• Buster Keaton & Irwin Allen audio interview from 1945 [6 mins]
• Buster Keaton & Arthur Friedman audio interview from 1956 [32 mins]
• Buster Keaton & Robert Franklin audio interview from 1958 [56 mins]
• Buster Keaton & Herbert Feinstein audio interview from 1960 [48 mins]
• Buster Keaton & Studs Terkel audio interview from 1960 [38 mins]
• What! No Spinach? (1926, dir. Harry Sweet) [19 mins] - Rarely seen comedy short by American actor / director Harry Sweet, that riffs on a number of elements from Seven Chances
• PLUS: A LIMITED EDITION [3000 copies ONLY] 60-PAGE perfect bound collector's book featuring new writing by Imogen Sara Smith and Philip Kemp; and a selection of archival writing and imagery.]