Three Ages

Last updated

Three Ages
3 Ages (1923) Poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Buster Keaton
Edward F. Cline
Written by Clyde Bruckman
Jean C. Havez
Joseph Mitchell
Buster Keaton (uncredited)
Produced by Joseph M. Schenck (uncredited)
Buster Keaton (uncredited)
StarringBuster Keaton
Margaret Leahy
Wallace Beery
Lillian Lawrence
Joe Roberts
Cinematography Elgin Lessley
William C. McGann
Production
company
Buster Keaton Productions [1]
Distributed by Metro Pictures
Release date
  • September 24, 1923 (1923-09-24)
Running time
64 minutes
CountryUnited States
Languages Silent film
English intertitles

Three Ages is a 1923 black-and-white American feature-length silent comedy film starring comedian Buster Keaton and Wallace Beery. The first feature Keaton wrote, directed, produced, and starred in (unlike The Saphead , in which he only acted), Keaton structured the film like three inter-cut short films. While Keaton was a proven success in the short film medium, he had yet to prove himself as a feature-length star. Had the project flopped, the film would have been broken into three short films, each covering one of the ages. The structure also worked as a parody of D. W. Griffith's 1916 film Intolerance . [2] [3]

Contents

Plot

Three plots in three different historical periods—prehistoric times, Ancient Rome, and modern times (the Roaring Twenties)—are intercut to prove the point that man's love for woman has not significantly changed throughout history. In all three plots, characters played by the small and slight Buster Keaton and handsome bruiser Wallace Beery compete for the attention of the same woman, played by Margaret Leahy. Each plot follows similar "arcs" in the story line in which Keaton's character works for his beloved's attention and eventually wins her over.

In the Stone Age, Keaton competes with the bigger, brutish Beery for a cavewoman, Leahy. After observing another caveman drag away a woman by the hair in order to "claim" her, Keaton tries to become more assertive, but is continuously pushed back and bullied by Beery. An attempt to make Leahy jealous by flirting with another woman ends in failure. Nevertheless, Keaton grows closer to Leahy, and Beery challenges him to a fight at sunrise. Keaton wins thanks to hiding a rock in his club, but is caught and tied to the tail of an elephant to be dragged around the dirt as punishment. Upon his return, he finds Leahy about to be claimed by Beery and attempts to make off with her. Beery catches him and the two battle by tossing boulders at each other from afar, with Keaton and Leahy on a cliff together. When Beery climbs up to reclaim Leahy, Keaton dispatches Beery's cronies and finally defeats him. He drags a smitten Leahy off by the hair. In the epilogue, they go off for a walk with their huge family of children following them.

In the Ancient Rome segment, Keaton attempts to attract the attention of the wealthy Leahy, but is continually pushed back by Beery. Beery challenges him to a chariot race after a hard snow — Keaton wins by using sled dogs instead of horses. In revenge, Beery forces him into the lion pit belonging to Leahy's family. Keaton survives by befriending the lion and manicuring its claws. Keaton is rescued by Leahy's parents while Beery kidnaps Leahy. Keaton rescues her and tries to seduce her in her palanquin, which takes off without them. In the epilogue, they also go out for a walk with many children in tow.

In "modern times", Keaton is a poor man yearning for Leahy, who has rich parents. Leahy's mother, unimpressed with Keaton's bank account but interested in Beery's, decides on Beery as a match for her daughter. Keaton accidentally gets drunk at a restaurant where Beery and Leahy are dining, and Beery tricks the male half of another couple into punching Keaton, who stumbles home drunk. Later, Keaton impresses Leahy by playing a football game, whereas Beery is only a coach; Beery decides to play opposite Keaton. Keaton is overwhelmed by the bigger Beery, but ends up winning the game with an impressive touchdown. An irritated Beery frames Keaton for possession of alcohol and gets him arrested, simultaneously showing him a wedding announcement between him and Leahy — Keaton will be unable to stop the wedding while in jail. While shadowed by a guard, Keaton finds a criminal file showing that Beery has been charged with bigamy and forgery. He attempts to call Leahy to warn her. He accidentally escapes when the phone booth he is using is taken out for replacement. Keaton evades the police chasing him and makes it to the church in time to drag Leahy away from the wedding and into a cab. After showing her Beery's criminal file, he takes Leahy home and prepares to leave, but she kisses him. He declares to the cab driver that they are going back to the church. In the epilogue, they also go out for a walk — this time with their dog instead of children.

Cast

Reception

In his October 1923 Life magazine review, Robert E. Sherwood wrote, "Although one has considerable difficulty in following the weird meanderings of Buster's plot (if any), one has no trouble whatsoever in greeting his antics with a hearty laugh. Of the three ages, the cave-man part is easily the most comic." [4]

The December 1923 issue of Photoplay said of the film, "It has its good spots, but is below Buster's standard." [5]

More recently, Dennis Schwartz felt that "Though overloaded with too much of a narrative for a Keaton comedy, some flashes of the Keaton genius occurs[ sic ]." [2]

Preservation status

A caption at the beginning of the Rohauer Collection print of the film states that when the film's negative was rediscovered in 1954, it was so badly decomposed as to be considered unsalvageable. Subsequent restoration work preserved the film for posterity, although a good deal of damage is still evident.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Buster Keaton</span> American actor and filmmaker (1895–1966)

Joseph Frank "Buster" Keaton was an American actor, comedian and filmmaker. He is best known for his silent film work, in which his trademark was physical comedy accompanied by a stoic, deadpan expression that earned him the nickname "The Great Stone Face". Critic Roger Ebert wrote of Keaton's "extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929" when he "worked without interruption" as having made him "the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies". In 1996, Entertainment Weekly recognized Keaton as the seventh-greatest film director, and in 1999 the American Film Institute ranked him as the 21st-greatest male star of classic Hollywood cinema.

<i>Sherlock Jr.</i> 1924 film

Sherlock Jr. is a 1924 American silent comedy film directed by and starring Buster Keaton and written by Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez, and Joseph A. Mitchell. It features Kathryn McGuire, Joe Keaton, and Ward Crane.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roscoe Arbuckle</span> American actor and comedian (1887–1933)

Roscoe Conkling "Fatty" Arbuckle was an American silent film actor, comedian, director, and screenwriter. He started at the Selig Polyscope Company and eventually moved to Keystone Studios, where he worked with Mabel Normand and Harold Lloyd as well as with his nephew, Al St. John. He also mentored Charlie Chaplin, Monty Banks and Bob Hope, and brought vaudeville star Buster Keaton into the movie business. Arbuckle was one of the most popular silent stars of the 1910s and one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, signing a contract in 1920 with Paramount Pictures for $14,000.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wallace Beery</span> American actor (1885-1949)

Wallace Fitzgerald Beery was an American film and stage actor. He is best known for his portrayal of Bill in Min and Bill (1930) opposite Marie Dressler, as General Director Preysing in Grand Hotel (1932), as Long John Silver in Treasure Island (1934), as Pancho Villa in Viva Villa! (1934), and his titular role in The Champ (1931), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Beery appeared in some 250 films during a 36-year career. His contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer stipulated in 1932 that he would be paid $1 more than any other contract player at the studio. This made Beery the highest-paid film actor in the world during the early 1930s. He was the brother of actor Noah Beery and uncle of actor Noah Beery Jr.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Thorpe</span> American actor and film director

Richard Thorpe was an American film director best known for his long career at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Noah Beery</span> American actor (1882–1946)

Noah Nicholas Beery was an American actor who appeared in films from 1913 until his death in 1946. He was the older brother of Academy Award-winning actor Wallace Beery as well as the father of prominent character actor Noah Beery Jr. He was billed as either Noah Beery or Noah Beery Sr. depending upon the film.

<i>One Week</i> (1920 film) 1920 American two-reel silent comedy film

One Week is a 1920 American two-reel silent comedy film starring Buster Keaton, the first independent film production he released on his own. The film was written and directed by Keaton and Edward F. Cline, and runs for 19 minutes. Sybil Seely co-stars. The film contains a large number of innovative visual gags largely pertaining to either the house or to ladders.

<i>Our Hospitality</i> 1923 film directed by Buster Keaton and John G. Blystone

Our Hospitality is a 1923 American silent comedy film directed by Buster Keaton and John G. Blystone. Starring Keaton, Joe Roberts, and Natalie Talmadge and distributed by Metro Pictures Corporation, it uses slapstick and situational comedy to tell the story of Willie McKay, caught in the middle of the infamous "Canfield–McKay" feud, an obvious satire of the real-life Hatfield–McCoy feud.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Margaret Leahy</span> English actress

Margaret Leahy was a British actress. After winning a beauty contest, Leahy went on to make only one film in her very short-lived film career.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Irving Cummings</span> American actor

Irving Caminsky was an American movie actor and director.

<i>Good Night, Nurse!</i> 1918 American film directed by Roscoe"Flapjack" Arbuckle

Good Night, Nurse! is a 1918 American two-reel silent comedy film written by, and directed by, and starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and featuring Buster Keaton. The action centers in a sanitarium Arbuckle's character was involuntarily brought to by his wife to be operated on by Keaton's character for alcoholism.

<i>Go West</i> (1925 film) 1925 film

Go West is a 1925 American silent Western comedy film directed by and starring Buster Keaton.

<i>The Round-Up</i> (1920 film) 1920 film

The Round-Up is a 1920 American silent Western film starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and featuring Wallace Beery. The movie was written by Edmund Day and Tom Forman, directed by George Melford, and based on Day's play that was a huge hit for Roscoe Arbuckle's older cousin Macklyn Arbuckle and Julia Dean on the Broadway stage in 1907. It was Macklyn in the play who created the famous phrase used in advertisements of the film, nobody loves a fat man.

<i>The Flame of Life</i> 1923 film by Hobart Henley

The Flame of Life is a 1923 American silent drama film starring Priscilla Dean, Robert Ellis, Kathryn McGuire, and Wallace Beery. The film was written by Elliott J. Clawson from the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel That Lass o' Lowrie's and directed by Hobart Henley.

<i>Spite Marriage</i> 1929 film

Spite Marriage is a 1929 American silent comedy film co-directed by Buster Keaton and Edward Sedgwick and starring Keaton and Dorothy Sebastian. It is the second film Keaton made for MGM and his last silent film, although he had wanted it to be a "talkie" or full sound film. While the production has no recorded dialogue, it does feature an accompanying synchronized score and recorded laughter, applause and other sound effects in some scenes. Keaton later wrote gags for some up-and-coming MGM stars like Red Skelton, and from this film recycled many gags, some shot-for-shot, for Skelton's 1943 film I Dood It.

<i>Coney Island</i> (1917 film) 1917 film by Roscoe Arbuckle

Coney Island is a 1917 American two-reel silent comedy film starring, written and directed by Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and featuring Buster Keaton.

<i>The Frozen North</i> 1922 film

The Frozen North is a 1922 American short comedy film directed by and starring Buster Keaton. The film is a parody of early western films, especially those of William S. Hart. The film was written by Keaton and Edward F. Cline. The film runs for around 17 minutes. Sybil Seely and Bonnie Hill co-star in the film.

Three on a Limb is a 1936 American short comedy film directed by Charles Lamont and starring Buster Keaton.

Photoplay Productions is an independent film company, based in the UK, under the direction of Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stanbury. Is one of the few independent companies to operate in the revival of interest in the lost world of silent cinema and has been recognised as a driving force in the subject.

<i>Wild Honey</i> (1922 film) 1922 film by Wesley Ruggles

Wild Honey is a 1922 American silent romantic adventure film directed by Wesley Ruggles. Produced and distributed by the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, the film is based on a book of the same title by Cynthia Stockley and stars Priscilla Dean, and features Noah Beery, Sr. and Wallace Beery in supporting roles. It is notable for the first use of a traveling matte special effect.

References

  1. "Three Ages (1923)". American Film Institute.
  2. 1 2 Schwartz, Dennis. "Three Ages".
  3. Michelakis, Pantelis; Wyke, Maria, eds. (2013). The Ancient World in Silent Cinema. Cambridge University Press. ISBN   9781139060073.
  4. Sherwood, Robert E. (October 25, 1923). ""The Three Ages"". Life. Vol. 82, no. 2138. p. 24.
  5. "Brief Reviews of Current Pictures". Photoplay . New York: Photoplay Publishing Company. December 1923. Retrieved August 21, 2015.