by Allan Fish
(USA 1925 59m) DVD1
He still wanted to tell her he loved her
p Joseph M.Schenck, Buster Keaton d Buster Keaton w Clyde Bruckman, Jean Haver, Joseph A.Mitchell play Roi Cooper Megrue ph Elgin Lessley, Byron Houck ed Buster Keaton m Robert Israel art Fred Gaboune
Buster Keaton (Jimmie Shannon), Ruth Dwyer (Mary Jones), T.Roy Barnes (Billy Meekin), Snitz Edwards (lawyer), Frances Raymond (Mrs Jones), Erwin Connelly (clergyman), Rosalind Byrne, Jean Arthur, Constance Talmadge,
It’s somewhat surprising to learn just how much Buster Keaton hated this film. He had the project forced on him by Joe Schenck, and did it only under protest. At initial screenings it didn’t perform that well either, and he went back and shot an extra reel with a new finale. That finale – and thus the film itself – entered silent comedy legend. We all have our favourite images of Buster, on the side of the train which starts up, rowing a wheel-less car like a boat, standing against a cyclone, or having a side of a house fall on him. This beats all.
He plays Jimmie Shannon, a broker who has loved Mary Jones for some time. We see him declare his love for her as the seasons pass, starting in spring, through autumn and winter and back to spring, the passage of time illustrated not merely by the foliage on the trees but by the growing size of Mary’s pet pooch. Come the spring, however, he has problems in business, as his broker’s business, in which he is the junior partner, is in trouble after a misbegotten deal has gone awry leaving them on the verge of bankruptcy and shame. Out of the blue, he hears that he will inherit seven million dollars belonging to his grandparents if he marries by seven o’clock on the evening of his 27th birthday. The problem is that that’s today, and he has only a few hours to get married. He goes back to Mary, but cocks things up in making it seem to her he’d marry anyone to get the money. After trying to propose on the spot to numerous female acquaintances, with literally laughable results, his partner puts an advert in the evening newspaper, and then things really start to hot up.
Races to the church were hardly new, even in 1925, and that very convention, and the fact that being based on a play Keaton didn’t have as much creative control over his narrative, must have been part of the reason its making was not pleasurable to him. There are many wonderful touches in the first forty minutes, including a series of encounters with women he sees as prospective brides; one is black (remember the old miscegenation laws), one Jewish and unlikely to turn up to a church, one isn’t even real, rather a dummy in a barber’s chair, and another turns out to be a drag artist in a stage show, who rewards his request with a shiner and his boater broken over his head.
He makes it to the church and then finds himself besieged by a host of the most ghastly female life-forms you could ever imagine, all dressed up with what they think are bridal veils but make them look more like Arabs around an oasis. Very soon the crowds are gathering as if it was Rudy Valentino’s funeral and when a priest announces someone has been having a practical joke at their expense they are not happy prospective brides. Buster barely escapes from the church, and sets off on the last two reels of mayhem. Put simply, it’s the greatest action chase work of silent screen comedy, as they pursue him everywhere possible. Buster gets in numerous trademark stunts, crossing over a railway line just before the train whizzes by, diving under a stationary truck in one movement, even hanging onto a crane hook. The real fun is yet to come though, as he unwittingly starts an avalanche of boulders down a hillside, which escalate in size until he’s playing an extreme form of dodgeball with his pursuing boulders. Finally, faced with the boulders behind him and the women ahead of him, he turns to face the boulders, dodging them while the women run for cover. Needless to say, he gets to the girl in time, he gets his money and everyone ends happily, and if the last two reels make the film, they turn it from a minor delight into a little classic and essential piece of the full Keaton mosaic.