James Shannon (Buster Keaton) learns that his grandfather has left him seven-million dollars (adjust that for inflation and gawp) in his will. But on one condition: that he be married by 7pm on his 27th birthday. Which also happens to be that same day.
At around 50 minutes long, Seven Chances is surprisingly slow to get going but Keaton’s desperate attempts to find a woman to marry culminates in a chase sequence for the ages. It is a sequence that reminds you, if it is even necessary, that Keaton was a genius. Just look at the cover image of this review. Hundreds of women chase the hapless would-be millionaire across streets, fields and lakes to get their seven-million dollar pound of flesh.
At one point, Keaton, having being chased by boulders down a steep hill, sees a horde of women at the foot of the hill in front of him. He considers his current options and decides to take his chance back uphill with the boulders. Breathlessly amusing.
It is a great shame, then, that on top of the slow, meandering start, the film shows its age in some extremely unfortunate moments of racism.
For instance, Keaton sees an attractive woman walk by that he hasn’t yet proposed to so dutifully follows her. Upon catching up with his potential new wife, he realises that she is in fact a black woman at which point Keaton’s character cuts his losses and walks away to try somebody else.
A product of its era, yes, marriage to a black woman wasn’t even legal at the time so perhaps that might explain his disappointment at her ethnicity (he literally couldn’t marry her even if he wanted to). But it leaves a sour taste nonetheless, especially as a title card in the film informs us that Keaton was desperate enough to have proposed to ‘everything in skirts, including a Scotsman,’ but stopped short of a woman with dark skin.
For the superlative chase sequence alone, Seven Chances is a must see (it is almost certainly available in isolation on YouTube), but the racist undertones make it difficult to recommend. (5)