“If you let your mind wander back through History you will find that the only thing that has not changed since the World began is — LOVE. Love is the unchanging axis on which the World revolves,” a preface page reads in the opening scene of Buster Keaton’s Three Ages (1923).
This opening sets up the film’s general premise of portraying how love has not changed much through history. Constructed as three alternating episodes set in the stone age, ancient Rome and the 1920s, the film has Buster Keaton starring in each section as a suitor who must battle another man (Wallace Beery) to win over the apple of his eye (Margaret Leahy). He must also contend with the lady’s overprotective parents in each segment. Some things never change, even as hundreds of years pass!
Three Ages was the first feature-length film that Keaton wrote, directed produced and starred in. According to IMDb’s trivia on the film, Keaton chose the episodic format so the film could be cut into three shorts and re-released if it was unsuccessful as a feature, since he was already greatly successful in short films. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. The film was a success and Buster continued to make feature-length films, further cementing himself as the legendary talent that he is still remembered as today.
With every Buster Keaton film I watch, I fall a little bit more in love with him. He was a fantastic performer, a fantastic writer, a fantastic director. His films are always so much fun to watch, both for their entertainment value and for appreciation of his skill as a filmmaker.
Three Ages is a film that brings a whole lot of laughs. Sometimes the laughs are from comical special effects, such as Buster riding on a huge dinosaur during the stone age portion of the film.
Sometimes the laughs come from the title cards, which often contain rhyme and wit. “I want to ask Wee-gee if she loves only me,” a title card states during the stone age, as Buster is visiting a cave-dwelling fortune teller.
Sometimes the laughs come from the stereotypical portrayals of the people of each time period — the Flinstones-esque wardrobe and club-carrying of the stone age sequences, a tense chariot race in the Roman sequence.
And of course, many of the laughs come from Buster’s use of physical comedy and expression. One infamous scene has Buster jumping from one roof to another and falling short. This was a real miss made by Buster, who did his own stunt work and was not intending to miss. He was injured pretty badly and ordered to rest for three days, but he loved how the fall looked so much that he decided to keep it in the film, adding in extra shots in which he falls through awnings on his way to the ground. Physical comedy can be dangerous work, but it looks absolutely brilliant on screen and the knowledge that Buster was injured during the making of this film gives me an even greater appreciation for his dedication to his work.
All of this adds up to a film that is so incredibly fun to watch. The fast-paced, episodic structure of the film keeps the viewer on their toes, though Buster needs no help keeping the audience engrossed in the stories he is telling. Three Ages is a wonderful watch. The score: 5/5!