The Buster Keaton Collection Volume 3 Blu-ray Review

Second tier Keaton is still very funny. 4 Stars

The films in The Buster Keaton Collection Volume 3 (Seven Chances, Battling Butler) may not constitute his movie masterpieces, but no one can deny their inventiveness and entertainment value.

Seven Chances (1925)
Released: 15 Mar 1925
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 56 min
Director: Buster Keaton
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Cast: Buster Keaton, T. Roy Barnes, Snitz Edwards, Ruth Dwyer
Writer(s): Roi Cooper Megrue (adapted from David Belasco's famous comedy by), Clyde Bruckman (screen version), Jean C. Havez (screen version), Joseph A. Mitchell (screen version)
Plot: A man learns he will inherit a fortune if he marries by 7 p.m. that same day.
IMDB rating: 8.0
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Other
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 16 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 08/20/2019
MSRP: $29.98

The Production: 4/5

There is always a good time to be had at a Buster Keaton silent movie. Even when dealing with films that aren’t considered among his masterpieces, Buster’s agility and his inventiveness with gags can always deliver the laughs. In The Buster Keaton Collection Volume 3, there are two of his big silent hits Seven Chances and Battling Butler, neither great films in the tradition of his The General, Sherlock, Jr., Steamboat Bill, Jr., or The Navigator but both imminently worthy of watching and appreciating. The new Cohen Media Group Blu-ray presentation offers good to great picture quality that better lets us appreciate the master at work.

Seven Chances4/5

Struggling stockbroker Jimmie Shannon (Buster Keaton) learns that if he gets married by 7 p.m. on his 27th birthday — which is today — he’ll inherit $7 million from an eccentric relative. But, after Mary Jones (Ruth Dwyer), whom he’s mooned over for years, turns him down after an awkward and inconsiderate proposal, he has only a few hours left to find a woman who’ll marry him. When his friends try to help by placing an ad in the afternoon newspaper, the shy Jimmie finds himself chased through the streets by hundreds of marriage-minded women who find the allure of a $7 million windfall too much to ignore.

Written by Clyde Bruckman, Joseph Mitchell, and Jean Havez (based on a play by Roi Cooper Megrue), the script takes a little bit of time to get started. A Technicolor prologue shows the lovebirds smitten with each other for an entire year without Jimmie ever popping the question, but the film proper finds the titled “seven chances” to be seven eligible girls Jimmie turns to after Mary haughtily turns him down. They’re dispensed with rather quickly, mainly because Jimmie never mentions to them the $7 million inheritance they’d come into upon marriage. The film’s real reason to be comes after the ad is posted and hundreds of veiled women storm after Jimmie lusting after that monetary windfall. The slapstick chase then gives the film’s second half its real kick: the women run roughshod through a football game leaving massive casualties, into and out of a streetcar, onto a construction site (where Buster hooked by a battering ram is something to see), through a cornfield, into an apiary, and navigating down a rocky hill where Buster’s incredible fleetness of foot and one of his most astonishing sight gags still brings gasps almost a hundred years later. In addition to directing that massive avalanche, Buster uses time lapse photography interestingly in the early going and has managed to find the slowest horse in Christendom when Mary tries to send word to her love that she’s changed her mind and will marry him.

Battling Butler3.5/5

Pampered millionaire Alfred Butler (Buster Keaton) goes on a camping excursion with his faithful servant (Snitz Edwards). Once in the wilderness, Alfred finds outdoor activities like hunting and fishing not to his liking and instead he tries to court a charming mountain girl (Sally O’Neil), who wants nothing to do with her spoiled suitor. Trying to impress the girl, Alfred masquerades as boxing star “Battling” Butler (Francis McDonald) since they have the same name. Unfortunately, when the real fighter finds out puny Alfred has been impersonating him, he promises to keep his secret from his new wife but actually decides a little lesson is in order which will lead Alfred into the prize ring.

The film, written by Paul G. Smith, Al Boasberg, Charles Smith, and Lex Neal and which runs an hour and eighteen minutes, is about thirty minutes too long. While there are some amusing sight gags during Alfred’s camping excursion (the spoiled man-child complains there is no game to stalk while huntable animals of every description flutter, dart, and scurry around him; a fishing excursion ends in a swamped canoe), the only real fall down funny moments involve Buster’s inept attempts to master the manly art of self-defense. His problems begin with trying to get into the ring where the agile funny man does several minutes of inspired slapstick with the ring ropes, and while most of the slugging and slapping are just okay, Keaton manages to use those springy ropes to climax several slapstick sequences. The several fights that occur during the movie are seconds long apart from a climactic one in the dressing room, so Chaplin’s masterful ring performance in City Lights still has no peer. Still, even second tier Buster Keaton is something to see.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The films are offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Seven Chances overall looks the better of the two films. The initial Technicolor sequence varies in color and screen density with some clouding on the left edge, but the remainder of the film is sharp and clear. Both films have been amber tinted, and Seven Chances has remarkably no age-related scratches or dirt to distract one’s attention. Battling Butler is also very sharp and detailed with excellent contrast, but there are some portions where deterioration spots appear in the center of the frame, and there is a scratch or two in evidence. Seven Chances has been divided into 6 chapters while Battling Butler has 8 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

Both films offer Robert Isreal’s background score (often made up of popular tunes of the era) in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo, and Battling Butler also offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track which nicely expands the audio soundstage and gently envelops the listener.

Special Features: 2.5/5

Buster Keaton: The Daredevil (3:44, HD): Quentin Tarantino, Leonard Maltin, Ben Mankiewicz, Jon Watts, Bill Hader, and Johnny Knoxville extol the extraordinary agility and daring of Buster Keaton as samples of his pratfalls and stunts are shown.

Seven Chances Restoration Trailer (0:55, HD)

Battling Butler Restoration Trailer (0:45, HD)

The Great Buster: A Celebration Trailer (1:50, HD)

Six-Page Booklet: contains some black and white stills, cast and crew lists for the two films, and a chapter listing for each.

Overall: 4/5

The films in The Buster Keaton Collection Volume 3 (Seven Chances, Battling Butler) may not constitute his movie masterpieces, but no one can deny their inventiveness and entertainment value. The Cohen Media Group release brings us these silent classics in as good a condition as we’re ever likely to see. Recommended!

Published by

Matt Hough

editor,member

16 Comments

  1. My first Buster Keaton film I ever saw was Seven Chances. When I was a teen I saw on tv Robert Youngson's The 4 Clowns (1970) which had Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charley Chase and Buster Keaton in a shorted version of Seven Chances. Since then I became a Buster Keaton fan and have most everything on disc and this one I will add to my collection.

  2. Robert Harris

    Matt,

    Is Cohen publicizing these as 1.37? That’s mid-‘30s sound.

    No, that was a guess on my part. That's why I didn't include any specific info in the video write-up. I have to check something in that aspect ratio check-list or it won't publish.

  3. I noticed that upcoming this week on TCM is Buster Keaton day in Summer Under the Stars. Both of these films are included in the day-long tribute as well as his feature film masterpieces described in the review. For those who don't have the discs recently released by Cohen, this is a way to sample the very best of Buster Keaton (I have no idea which transfers they'll be showing, but it'll be interesting to see).

  4. Matt Hough

    I noticed that upcoming this week on TCM is Buster Keaton day in Summer Under the Stars. Both of these films are included in the day-long tribute as well as his feature film masterpieces described in the review. For those who don't have the discs recently released by Cohen, this is a way to sample the very best of Buster Keaton (I have no idea which transfers they'll be showing, but it'll be interesting to see).

    TCM is also showing Peter Bogdanovich's new documentary on Buster at 8 p.m. (and again later in the evening in a rebroadcast). Excerpts from it and the trailer for the documentary are included on this disc.

  5. Matt, could you please be a little more specific about the Technicolor sequence at the beginning of Seven Chances? Is it "restored" in any way? Do original elements even exist for it? What does it look like? Thanks! I love this movie!

  6. Roger Grodsky

    Matt, could you please be a little more specific about the Technicolor sequence at the beginning of Seven Chances? Is it "restored" in any way? Do original elements even exist for it? What does it look like? Thanks! I love this movie!

    A card before the movie begins discusses the Technicolor sequence and what was used to get the final image, but I don't remember exactly what it said. From what I could see, it looks good but not great with color clouding on the left edge of the frame as I mentioned and not especially fully saturated in the two-color Technicolor.

    BTW, for those who are interested, those Keaton films are scheduled for Monday (tomorrow).

  7. For the restoration of Battling Butler thirteen elements were inspected and analyzed: eight of those – from the Cohen Film Collection and Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique – were digitized and compared. Upon inspection it was confirmed that the first generation positive print preserved by the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique was struck from a B-negative (none US distribution) and therefore not used for reconstruction. Four elements were finally selected for restoration: the original camera negative, two positive prints (one vintage and one from 1940s) and one second generation duplicate negative, all preserved by Cohen Film Collection. The latter was used, whenever possible, to replace portions that were missing in the original negative, namely the entirety of reel 1, and portions in every reel with the exception of reel 3. Colour grading used the amber tinted vintage print as a reference: this choice was confirmed by the information reported in the middle tails of the original negative. Opening cards were re-edited to match the vintage print.

    For the restoration of Seven Chances we inspected and analysed 25 elements: 16 of those – from the Cohen Film Collection, The Library of Congress, the Cinémathèque française, the CNC – Archives françaises du film – were digitised and compared. For the 2-strip Technicolor opening titles three elements were digitised and compared at the colour grading unit: a decayed original positive nitrate print (44662- 2), an internegative (RR8152), and an interpositive (BND26/Sections). The latter two resulted from a restoration carried out in the Nineties which used the original positive nitrate print. At that time, the nitrate was in a better state of preservation than it is today, allowing the creation of good intermediate elements. Eventually the previous restored interpositive was chosen due to the better response at colour grading. The nitrate positive was used only for one opening title card since the others were not original. The film reconstruction used a first-generation amber-tinted positive nitrate preserved at the Library of Congress. One shot with a significant number of missing frames was completed from a second generation safety duplicate negative (RR815) held by The Cohen Film Collection. The decision to keep the amber tint was dictated by the matching label codes of the positive nitrate and Technicolor prints’ prologue.
    As an additional note: comparison showed that two elements – a safety duplicate negative preserved by the Cohen Film Collection and a safety positive preserved at the Cinémathèque française – include four shots which derive from a second negative.

  8. jacksparrow900

    For the restoration of Battling Butler thirteen elements were inspected and analyzed: eight of those – from the Cohen Film Collection and Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique – were digitized and compared. Upon inspection it was confirmed that the first generation positive print preserved by the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique was struck from a B-negative (none US distribution) and therefore not used for reconstruction. Four elements were finally selected for restoration: the original camera negative, two positive prints (one vintage and one from 1940s) and one second generation duplicate negative, all preserved by Cohen Film Collection. The latter was used, whenever possible, to replace portions that were missing in the original negative, namely the entirety of reel 1, and portions in every reel with the exception of reel 3. Colour grading used the amber tinted vintage print as a reference: this choice was confirmed by the information reported in the middle tails of the original negative. Opening cards were re-edited to match the vintage print.

    For the restoration of Seven Chances we inspected and analysed 25 elements: 16 of those – from the Cohen Film Collection, The Library of Congress, the Cinémathèque française, the CNC – Archives françaises du film – were digitised and compared. For the 2-strip Technicolor opening titles three elements were digitised and compared at the colour grading unit: a decayed original positive nitrate print (44662- 2), an internegative (RR8152), and an interpositive (BND26/Sections). The latter two resulted from a restoration carried out in the Nineties which used the original positive nitrate print. At that time, the nitrate was in a better state of preservation than it is today, allowing the creation of good intermediate elements. Eventually the previous restored interpositive was chosen due to the better response at colour grading. The nitrate positive was used only for one opening title card since the others were not original. The film reconstruction used a first-generation amber-tinted positive nitrate preserved at the Library of Congress. One shot with a significant number of missing frames was completed from a second generation safety duplicate negative (RR815) held by The Cohen Film Collection. The decision to keep the amber tint was dictated by the matching label codes of the positive nitrate and Technicolor prints’ prologue.
    As an additional note: comparison showed that two elements – a safety duplicate negative preserved by the Cohen Film Collection and a safety positive preserved at the Cinémathèque française – include four shots which derive from a second negative.

    This is absolutely fascinating!! I wish more people could post stuff like this!!

  9. Matt Hough

    No, that was a guess on my part. That's why I didn't include any specific info in the video write-up. I have to check something in that aspect ratio check-list or it won't publish.

    If forced to work with presumptions, you might be best served to use the following:

    Silent films shot on 35mm – 1.33:1

    Early sound films with disc – 1.33:1, unless derived from matted dupe

    Early sound films with optical tracks – 1.19:1

    Sound films post Academy – 1.37:1

  10. I watched Peter Bogdanovich's documentary on Buster Keaton this afternoon (recorded from TCM last night). It's a thorough and loving tribute, and I really enjoyed it, but naturally it can only hint at the greatness found in his films. You have to experience the WHOLE thing in each case to fully comprehend his genius.

  11. The above screen shot is from the two-color Technicolor sequence from the Kino Blu-ray of Seven Chances. I wonder if the Cohen version is any better? Apparently the sequence was 275 feet in length on cemented prints. 340 prints were made in 1924. The movie opened at the Capitol in New York on March 25, 1915. (I couldn't do a frame grab, so the shot is from my Panasonic 4K OLED.)

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