I only had one chance to get hitched, and for whatever reason she said yes!
Screen Version By: Clyde Bruckman, Jean C. Havez, & Joseph A. Mitchell
Directed By: Buster Keaton
Charm is almost always present in a Buster Keaton film, and Seven Chances is no different. There’s almost always a social consciousness as well, even if Mr. Keaton is never as heavy on the thematic’s as, say, Charles Chaplin was. Seven Chances is the odd instance where a Buster Keaton film fails in the social consciousness department. I know that times have changed, and all that jazz, but I had a hard time getting past the blackface and minor black courtship that’s present in Seven Chances. Mr. Keaton’s films are usually timeless, but Seven Chances feels dated because of its insistence on using blackface and the way Mr. Keaton’s character, James Shannon, reacts when he finds out a possible bride is black.
There was no real reason for the blackface, so that leaves me to surmise that the reason blackface was employed on the hired hand was because the simple idea of blackface was supposed to be funny. I’m not one for jumping on a moral high horse, but blackface isn’t funny, especially not when it’s supposed to be funny just because a character has blackface on. When one further takes into account the reaction of James to a possible black bride, it becomes clear that Seven Chances has some serious race issues. It pains me to say this, but Seven Chances, a Buster Keaton film, is quite racist. There’s no reason for the racism to be present, it isn’t funny, and it greatly hurts the film.
I was able to look past the racism, well, look past isn’t the best way to phrase my final thoughts on Seven Chances. I wasn’t able to look past the racism of Seven Chances, but I was able to recognize how well made the elements were that had nothing to do with the racism. Mr. Keaton adopts his usual stone face to great measure. There’s an escalation at play in Seven Chances, as the film starts off small and works its way into the more physical, and larger, jokes. By the time James is dodging boulders I was laughing my behind off. That was funny stuff, and unfortunately it helped to highlight why the racist comedy of the film wasn’t needed. Seven Chances is a funny premise, with a great comedic actor/director at the forefront. The way the film progresses is very funny, and the emergence of the physical humor of Mr. Keaton takes place over time and adds a real style to the directorial choices of Mr. Keaton. This film was bound to be funny, it’s a shame the racism had to be present.
Seven Chances isn’t really lesser Buster Keaton, but it is a flawed and damaged Buster Keaton film. It’s very funny, but it’s also hard to watch because of its racist leanings. I’m sure that a lot of people will disagree with me, and if I had a lot of readers I’m positive many would come to Seven Chance’s aid with the “it was a different time,” defense. That defense doesn’t fly with me, and that’s why a well made film that should be one of the all-time great comedies will be more remembered in my mind for being racist than for being funny. Seven Chances is still funny, and it’s well made, but it’s a frustratingly socially inept comedy. All the quality jokes and production values can’t make up for blackface and racism.