3 Ages (1923) – Film Review
Directors: Edward F Cline, Buster Keaton
Cast: Buster Keaton, Margaret Leahy, Wallace Beery
By Sarah Morgan
I love Laurel and Hardy, can’t understand people’s fascination with Charlie Chaplin, don’t mind a bit of Harold Lloyd and used to laugh like a drain when BBC Two broadcast Edgar Kennedy’s shorts back in the day.
But Buster Keaton? Obviously I knew who he was, but until relatively recently, I’d seen clips of his greatest stunts, but never any of his shorts or feature-length films. That changed when his titles began to be released on Blu-ray, and I’ve got to say, I’m very pleased about that. Not just because it’s increased my knowledge of classic comedy, but because for the most part, they’re damn good.
Of course, some aspects of them are not very PC, and some of the humour simply doesn’t work any longer, but they’re never less than fascinating to watch. We live in a time when technology means film-makers can put almost anything up on screen, but Keaton was working without such measures, so what you see is, often, the man himself being pushed physically to his limit to carry out incredible set-pieces that still blow your mind a century on from their creation.
3 Ages was originally released in 1923 and is something of a landmark production for Keaton. Although he’d already appeared in The Saphead, this was the first time he’d directed, produced and starred in a feature-length project. There seems to be some kind of conflict between experts about whether it was always going to be one long film or if it was designed to be split into three separate shorts if it proved unpopular with audiences used to seeing Keaton in smaller offerings.
Not that it matters to our enjoyment of it now. A trio of stories are covered – one in the Stone Age, the next in Ancient Rome, and the third in what was then modern times. In each, Keaton plays a small, supposedly weedy man trying to win the heart of a fair maiden, who is being wooed by the seemingly more impressive Wallace Beery.
British actress Margaret Leahy, who plays the woman in question, literally won the chance to appear in the film by coming first in a beauty competition. It turned out to be her only film, with some observers claiming that although she had the looks to be a star, she had none of the talent.
Rather than being hilariously funny, 3 Ages is a cleverly put together production. There are some wonderful scenes to look out for too, including Keaton taking a ride on a brontosaurus. Sadly, the original print has deteriorated in several places, but it doesn’t spoil our enjoyment of the film as a whole.
The disc is also packed full of special features which, if you watch them all, should make you a Keaton expert!