The Three Ages
THE THREE AGES (1923)
Notes: BusterKeaton, Wallace Beery, Margaret Leahy, Oliver Hardy. Directedby Keaton and Eddie Cline. Produced by Joseph M. Schenk. Storyby Clyde Bruckman, Joseph Mitchell, and Jean Havez. Keaton’sfirst feature film, a parody of D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance.
Summary: We see Father Time with his sickle. He opens the “Book ofthe Three Ages” whose Preface reads: “If you let yourmind wander back through History you will find that the only thingthat has not changed since the World began is — Love. Love isthe unchanging axis on which the World revolves. There is nobetter way to prove this than by comparing the love stories ofthree widely separate periods of Time. As appropriate exampleswe have selected the Stone Age, the Roman Age, and the ModernAge.”
In five rounds, we see the three ages paralleledin terms of Keaton’s pursuit of Margaret Leahy despite his rivalWallace Beery (who will play Challenger in The Lost World). In the Stone Age segments, Beery is first seen riding a mastodon. Keaton enters the film riding a dinosaur (evocative of his laterrelationship with The General). A claymation Keaton looks aboutfrom the top of the dinosaur’s head. This is the only dinosaurmoment in the film, but other enjoyable Stone Age moments includeKeaton presenting what he calls “My card!”–an enormousstone tablet–and the use of a turtle as a “Wee Gee”[Ouija] (paralleled with a soothsayer from Roman times and the”Modern” flower: “she loves me; she loves me not”). Keaton is also dragged off by a mastodon as punishment for cheatingat the caveman version of golf (with “clubs”). Aftera rock fight, Keaton drags his woman off by her hair and we seeher rapturous face.
The Roman Age offers a chariot race in whichKeaton uses sled dogs (which he changes like spare tires, andmotivates with a cat suspended on a pole). The Modern Age featuresfootball and, more enjoyably, a cop chase and wedding rescue.
Finally, we see the cave couple emerge withan enormous brood, the Roman couple emerge with a few children,and the Modern couple walking a dog. [What is this supposed tomean? The twentieth century doesn’t breed tons of brats obsessively?]
Commentary: Rosa Rio’s organ score includes clever echoes of “StoutheartedMen,” “The Baby Elephant Walk,” “In My MerryOldsmobile,” “Ain’t She Sweet,” “Let It Snow,””Buckle Down Winsockie,” etc. Buster Keaton is terrific;I wish I could track down that Samuel Beckett film he did, called,I think, Film.