Continuing with this series of 47 moments in film that I love (Why 47?), today we hit #18, and we continue with another moment from the same film as last time.
Seven Chances (1925)
Directed by: Buster Keaton
James Shannon desperately searches for someone who will marry him that afternoon in order that he may gain an inheritance that will save him from financial ruin!
Young Jimmy Shannon’s business partner has put an ad in the paper looking for woman who will become his bride, so that he can earn an inheritance promised in an unusual will. Hundreds of woman have responded, but are enraged when the wedding is off, as Jimmy’s girlfriend has agreed to marry him. The “jilted” brides have become an enraged. mob, completely out of control and chasing Jimmy through the town.
In his efforts to escape, Jimmy spies a squad of police officers, marching in formation in the midst of a changeover in patrol duties. He attempts to hide in plain sight by marching with them. However, the massive mob of angry women is approaching from behind, and the police officers scatter. However, thanks to the Rule of Funny, Jimmy doesn’t notice and keeps marching, alone. But then another officer who was standing at a street corner sees the approaching throng, and goes running right past the marching Jimmy. Finally, Jimmy realizes something is wrong, and then flees for his life!
This is funny bit only a few minutes after the last sequence I mentioned, and it’s in the same family of gag, but still different enough to stand out. First, Buster Keaton (the director and star) is about a foot smaller than all the police officers, so it’s pretty funny watching him try to blend in with them. But then it’s the combination of the camerawork and Keaton’s physical humor that really makes the scene work.
During the critical moment, Jimmy is shown in a wide shot from just ahead of him to avoid a full profile, tracking with his movements down a suburban street. Suddenly, the police officer runs by, moving right out of the frame, leaving us watching Jimmy spinning and twisting in confusion as he realizes that his “cover” is gone. Then Jimmy starts to run at full speed, which if you watch Buster Keaton films, you know is something to be impressed by. The camera continues to follow him until he catches up with and passes the police officer, again taking the time to share with him a confused and befuddled look (effectively portrayed even though this is a wide shot we’re watching). Then he kicks into high gear and continues to blaze forward, leaving the officer in the dust and eventually outpacing the camera itself!
This cut is simple, and only about 12 seconds long, but it is, frankly, cinema gold.
The chase continues, going to even stranger and more bizarre heights, which really have to be seen to be believed. And in the end, Jimmy is just a bit too late to meet up with girlfriend to get married before the deadline imposed by the will.
Or is he…?
You can watch the movie on Youtube here (with my preferred backing music). If you do, you’ll find the bit I’m talking about here starting just before the 44:00 minute mark.