Throughout Buster Keaton’s career, the iconic comedian had a cavalcade of classic pieces. Be it a film as beloved as Sherlock Jr., or as underrated and under seen as a film like ‘˜Sidewalks Of New York,’ the actor/director/legend has one of the most dense and deep filmographies in cinema.
And finally, we have what may be his best, in one of the greatest Blu-rays to hit this year.
Kino has released a brand new Blu-ray of Keaton’s masterpiece (or should I say one of many), ‘˜Seven Chances,’ and not only does it feature one hell of a collection of supplements, but it may have the best Blu-ray transfer of any silent film yet to hit the format.
First though, the film.
Based on a play by Roi Cooper Megrue, the film follows the story of Jimmy Shannon, a partner at a local brokerage firm, which is just about ready to go under. After the passing of his grandfather, he finds out that he must marry by 7:00pm when he turns 27, or else he will miss out on a much needed seven million bucks. A tight narrative given a tight, 60 minute, runtime, ‘˜Chances’ is one of Keaton’s most charming and succinct pieces of work.
Keaton is absolutely fantastic here, in a film that, for all intents and purposes, is far smaller in scope than many Keaton comedies before or after. Save for an opening chase that rivals anything the master of the physical comedy sequence put on screen, the film is relatively low-key, and yet features a cavalcade of great, and soft spoken (for lack of a better turn of phrase) comedic moments that are both laugh-inducing and also genuinely moving.
While visually the film is most notable for its opening use of Technicolor, the film also features some rather fine filmmaking from Keaton, who directed the film. The opening set piece is absolutely breathtaking, but the lighter moments also shine here, as both Keaton and his duo of DPs Byron Houck and Elgin Lessley knock this sucker out of the ball park. Shot in two-strip Technicolor, the film is a fantastic glimpse at a filmmaker attempting to expand his visual horizons, while also giving the modern viewer a look into a world just on the brink of major changes cinematically.
Overall, ‘˜Chances’ is both a fantastic comedy, and one of Keaton’s most influential films. A narrative that’s lived on to this day (see 1999’s ‘˜The Bachelor,’ which doesn’t even really deserve to be mentioned in this review for fear of people seeing its release date and being enticed to view it), the film may be a bit jarring in moments (the use of black-face, as usual, is appalling), but it’s charming as all hell. Keaton is able to imbue this piece with such a sense of both comedy, and true emotion, that for its 56 minute runtime it’s really a sight to be seen. It’s not a perfect film, but then again, save for some flaws found in the films of that entire generation, it comes damn close. Toss in some charm that will leave you smiling ear to ear, this is one of cinema’s greatest comedies.
And it’s a killer disc too boot.
This is far and away one of the best looking and sounding pieces of silent cinema ever to hit Blu-ray. With a fine score performed by Robert Israel that sounds great in surround sound, the transfer is beyond reference quality. The Technicolor portion looks fantastic, with the black and white cinematography looking even better. Restored from the Library of Congress’ 35mm materials, the film is one hell of a transfer, that looks almost too glossy for a film of its generation.
Supplement wise, the one thing that this release has that more Keaton releases need is a commentary. Featuring a discussion between Ken Gordon and Bruce Lawton, the film’s commentary is both insightful and oddly enough, engaging. Not dry like many commentaries can end up being, particularly for silent films, this release features a fantastic discussion between two fine scholars. Two shorts are also included, both a 1904 Edison short and the 1947 Three Stooges piece which also features the same plot as ‘˜Chances.’ Rounded out by a location featurette and a rather odd, but interesting, piece on the restoration of the Technicolor sequence, Kino has done what any great Blu-ray release does. Give context to a great piece of cinema.
Simply one of the finest Blu-ray releases of the year, ‘˜Seven Chances’ is a release that any person should truly own. Be it the most storied cinephile, or a person looking to be introduced to an actor or a time period they weren’t too familiar with, this is a perfect way to get anyone interested in the world of Buster Keaton and silent comedy. Oh, and it’s just a damn good release as well.