One thing you can be certain of when watching a Keaton film is that you are going to laugh. What is not so certain is what you will laugh from. Keaton movies are not just a wacky chase but plays a number of strings that all work out very well in a silent and probably would less so in a talkie.
Seven Chances have one of those mighty chases, maybe even the biggest in movie history. Thousands of would-be brides chasing the groom, up and down streets, through the country side and in trolley busses. It is funny, but this movie has another unique string that I found absolutely hilarious.
Keatons character is shy broker who cannot get around to ask his girlfriend to marry him. He and his partner fall on hard times, but then out of the blue a lawyer appears with a letter saying that Keaton has inherited 7 million dollars. One condition though: He has to marry before 7 o’clock this evening or forfeit the money. Since the two of them has already spent much of the day trying to avoid the lawyer they are now in a hurry.
Keaton rushes out to his girlfriend to ask her marry him. She is less than pleased to find out that it is the inheritance that has prompted him to pop the question and asks him to butt out. Soon after she reconsiders but is having a hard time getting through to Keaton.
What to do then? Well, by Jove he is going to get married and it does not really matter who he marires now that his girlfriend has refused. So he goes around asking just about anything female and some who are not if they would marry him. And that is so outrageously funny! Mostly so because it is Keaton doing it. He would walk up to a girl, perfectly serious, ask her to marry him in that deadpan fashion of his and take the rejection in the same manner. It is indescribable. He really goes at it with gusto. I love his hopeful glance at the girl in the wardrobe who has witnessed his efforts and the tiny shake of the head: don’t even ask, mister.
Some of the people he asks are to show that that he is so desperate that he would consider basically anything, like the doll at the hairdresser or a woman who turns out to be a man, but here we get some prejudices that just does not work today, like a jew or a black woman. This sours the experience a bit but only for a moment.
While Keaton has been desperately trying to fulfill his part of the deal, his colleague and the lawyer place a story in the newspaper that this young man must marry before 7 to inherit 7 million dollars and any would-be bride can show up at this specific church. Now that money is involved the case is turned upside down and all these mostly (very) mature women will balk at nothing to get him and the prize of a fortune. They are downright scary! Keaton seeks shelter and encounters the messenger of his girlfriend who tell him that she has changed her mind. Now Keaton must find her and avoid the horde of brides to get married before 7 o’clock.
Having seen Keaton in a great many movies by now it is when he is walking into an impossible situation with a perfect straight face that he is best. “Seven Chances” gives him ample opportunity to do that and that makes it a classic.
I have mentioned it before, but will gladly do it again: I could see Keaton stuff any time, any day.