Three Ages (1923)

Director: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline

Running Time: 71 Minutes

Certification: U

Starring: Buster Keaton, Margaret Leahy, Wallace Beery, Joe Roberts, Lillian Lawrence, Kewpie Morgan

Celebrating it's 100th anniversary, Three Ages was the feature directorial debut of Buster Keaton. Best known for his silent-film work, Keaton was a filmmaker and actor who willingly dove headfirst into stunts regardless of the impact such dangerous endeavours may leave. His works remain astounding to this day, with his influence being felt in contemporary actors such as Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville, and Tom Cruise.

Parodying the structure of D.W. Griffith's historical epic, Intolerance, the feature follows multiple narratives across different time periods to show how one thing has not changed since the world began; love. This is proved by comparing romantic tales from the stone age, the roman age, and the (then) modern age. All three time-periods follows a similar pattern where Keaton plays a hopeless romantic, fighting for the affections of his love interest (Margaret Leahy) while contending with a more brutish love rival (Wallace Beery).

The rival is established as superior to the protagonist, as decided upon the love interest's parents. The decision-making process effectively reflects humanity's evolution, as the stone age has the father implement a test of strength, while the roman age swiftly decides based on job role. The modern age has the mother make the decision based on financial status, which leads into an effective First National Bank/Last National Bank gag.

Unique inclusions are made to try setting apart the time periods, such as a stop-motion dinosaur and a silly looking lion costume, yet these can only do so much when the stories feel interchangeable. While there is a point regarding how changing times does not alter the course of true love, it could be done without the similar plots making the film feel repetitive. It is also notable how the love-interest feels less like a character than a trophy to be won.

Never growing old is the impressive comedic timing, which allows for phenomenal physical gags including a car falling apart and the visual of a sundial watch. A football game offers a fantastic slapstick showcase, as the modern protagonist wishes to impress his love-interest while evading the beatings authorized by the villain. The highlight of visual inventiveness is a chariot race, where the roman protagonist prepares for snowy conditions in a unique way, with a laugh-out-loud moment involving the vehicle's equivalent of a spare tyre. As the third-act sees the protagonist standing up for himself, the impressive stunts bring these stories to a satisfying and humourous close. The most famous was a failed attempt by Keaton to jump between two buildings, yet the fall was kept in the film and worked into the plot.

Considering the film's age, it is understandable that not everything could be restored to its former glory. The most notable damage is during the football game, yet they have been restored as well as they possibly can, and these instances remain minor across the slender runtime. With Rodney Sauer's musical score wonderfully accompanying the film, Eureka Entertainment have put together an impressive celebration of this key film in Keaton's career.

Three Ages is available on Blu-Ray now courtesy of Eureka Entertainment