A brilliant historical satire teeming with inventive flourishes, Buster Keaton's "Three Ages" (1923, 63 min.) is a silent comedy of truly epic proportions. This clever parody of D.W. Griffith's "Intolerance" follows Buster... more »'s hard-luck romantic misadventures throughout world history: from the dawn of man in the Stone Age through the gladiator arenas of Ancient Rome to the city streets of the American Jazz Era. Accompanying "Three Ages" on this DVD are two rarely seen short works: "The Goat" (1921, 25 min.), with Buster mistaken for nefarious gunslinger Dead Eye Dan and caught up in a prolonged slapstick-filled chase, and "My Wife's Relations" (1922, 25 min.), a comedy of domestic turmoil that seems to reflect some of the tensions between Keaton and the Talmadges, his real-life in-laws at the time.« less
Mr Peter G George | Ellon, Aberdeenshire United Kingdom | 03/26/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Three Ages is often referred to as a parody of Griffith's Intolerance. However, a gap of seven years between the release of the two films makes this interpretation not as straightforward as it might at first appear. Moreover, Intolerance was something of a financial failure and it is far easier to parody a recent commercial success. There are similarities between the two films, but these should not be overemphasized, for whereas Griffith's film tells four very different stories, what distinguishes Keaton's film is that it tells three stories which in essence are the same. Keaton makes his point regarding the similar problems facing lovers through the ages by having them face the same recurring situations. The three stories resemble each other so closely that much of the humour of the film lies in the comparison between them. Thus Three Ages is not merely three short films spliced together. It is a far better and more unified film than that. Many people seem to consider that Keaton was somehow merely practicing for his later triumphs when he made Three Ages. Granted it does not reach the heights of The General, but it should not be considered as some sort of minor piece of juvenilia. Keaton may not yet have been at his very best, but he could still make a film with many extremely funny and inventive moments. Three Ages remains a highly enjoyable film, but it must be admitted that the print used for the DVD is quite poor. After watching near perfect prints on the other Keaton DVDs which Kino have released, one is left with a sense of regret that Three Ages did not survive in better condition. Still perhaps we are fortunate to be able to see the film at all. Keaton, at one point, told an interviewer that he thought the film was lost entirely. Of the two short films included on the DVD The Goat is the best. Quite why it is called The Goat I'm not sure, but it is very funny and includes some hair-raising stunts which even Harold Lloyd might have balked at performing. It is said that My Wife's Relations reflects Keaton's relationship with his real wife's family, but this is to read back into the film problems which arose later than 1922. Keaton, at this point, was still happy with his wife Natalie Talmadge as is shown by her being given a starring role in the following year's Our Hospitality. My Wife's Relations should not then be viewed as autobiography, but rather as a fairly good comic farce. It has some fine scenes, but lacks the subtlety of Keaton's best films, for the supporting characters are really a series of grotesques."
Finally, a good copy!
James Middleton | Battle Creek, MI USA | 03/20/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"For years, public domain copies of The Three Ages have relied on a far from complete, contrasty 16mm print suffering from a lot of neglect and nitrate decomposition. The nicest thing about this DVD is Kino's greatest gift to the cinemaphile--you actually can see the movie. The pairing of Keaton with Beery is ingenious -- they even keep their own names in the "Modern Story.""
Start here or finish here
Robert Morris | San Francisco | 04/25/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Whether you're new to the work of Buster Keaton or exploring ways to complete your Keaton library you can't go wrong with this set. It contains his first feature length film as a director (Three Ages) and two shorts films, The Goat and My Wife's Relations. The editors of this set selected a good blend of Keaton themes and approaches to story-telling here. The Goat is the earliest of the set but is in some ways it is the perfect distillation of his character: a drifter, a victim of fate, machine and human will who somehow avoids disaster and even, surprisingly, wins the girl. Buster becomes falsely identified as an escaped criminal, chased continuously by cops, eventually exploiting his predicament by flashing the newspaper containing his mug shot to folks who want to give him a hard time. The climax is a great chase scene involving an elevator and set of stairs as Buster tries to rendezvous with his beloved who happens to be the daughter of the cop who has been pursuing him for most of the film! This film is simply unmatched as a spontaneous sequence of creative visual comedy.
My Wife's Relations (1922) is less satisfying because it strays from the best Keaton formula and degrades into a more purely slapstick genre. It is much more suggestive of the kind of film Buster did with Fatty Arbuckle 3 or 4 years previously; funny, creative, but more primitive and less satisfying to the modern viewer. It contains elements that are untypical of Keaton's character, such as physical violence towards a woman (not that the bully character of Keaton's wife did not deserve such abuse here!)
Finally, Three Ages is pure joyful visual comedy. It is a comic parody of Grittith's Intolerance, where the same theme is explored over three different historical periods. Here is the theme is love (boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy defeats rival and wins girl back) and the three ages are pre-historic, roman and modern (1920s); there are unlimited comic opportunities being explored here, as love and life are compared and contrasted. The energetic, optimistic mood is somewhat uncharacteristic of Keaton's films and more suggestive of Harold Lloyd, as Keaton's character overcomes bully obstacles with almost super-human skill and dexterity. In fact, the football game sequence looks forward to Lloyd's The Freshman, and the rescue of the girl from the polygamist predates Lloyd's Girl Shy. (Both Keaton and Lloyd were approaching their peek creatively during this period, and it's obvious that they played off each other's creative skills.)
By all means, buy this volume, whether alone or as part of the complete set."
Buster - the best there ever was
Keaton Fan | 02/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Keaton's Three Ages is one of his lesser works, but it shows the same attention to detail that would be so praised in his best-known work, The General. Keaton's comedy is so matter-of-fact that whenever he does a gag, it appears to make perfect sense to the viewer. If his Roman character is in a chariot race, and one of the dogs is lame, then of course he will stop, examine the dog, take a spare dog from a box on the back of the chariot, and exchange them!
My Wife's Relations does indeed reflect the tensions occurring in Keaton's married life at that time. He married Natalie Talmadge because she wanted to get married, and Buster seemed a likely prospect (I am quoting from various Keaton biographies here). The fact that he cast Natalie as the leading lady in Our Hospitality does not mean that they were getting along, but that he wanted to placate her. Keaton, who lived uneasily with his wife's relations, made the film as a way of complaining about his in-laws without actually voicing his complaints. The film is a bitingly funny one.
The Goat (in other words, scapegoat) is yet another fantastically funny short in which Keaton is a victim of fate. His sense of comedy was far beyond that of Chaplin or Lloyd, which is why it stands up so well today."
Surreal, Wacky Comedy!
Joe Libby | 02/18/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"THE THREE AGES is Buster Keaton's parody of D.W. Griffith's INTOLERANCE. Buster and Wallace Beery star as romantic rivals for the hand of pretty Margaret Leahy. The twist is that the story is told thrice by intercutting between three time periods: prehistoric, Ancient Rome, and Modern Times (1920's). The gags are fast and furious and many are truly surreal; highlights include caveman Buster attempting to woo Amazonian Blanche Payson, a Roman chariot race hindered by snow(!), and a beautifully constructed chase sequence with Buster escaping from a police station and inadvertantly returning there a few minutes later. The Kino source print has apparently been pieced together from the best available materials and with a few minor exceptions is sharp and clear. It also has a nicely done music score conducted by Robert Israel. As a sidenote, many filmographies list Oliver Hardy in the cast. The actor in question is in fact a near-Hardy lookalike named Kewpie Morgan."