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Film / Three Ages

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Through every age there is the faithful worshipper at Beauty's shrine.

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.
opening title card

Three Ages is a 1923 film directed by and starring Buster Keaton.

For his first feature film, Keaton made an Affectionate Parody of D W Griffith's Intolerance, in which a Love Triangle plays out in prehistoric times, during the Roman Empire, and in 1920s America. (The idea was that if the feature-length version flopped, it could be re-edited into three separate shorts.)note  The film was almost lost to posterity, because by the 1950s the negative was badly damaged. It was eventually salvaged, but some shots are still heavily obscured.

Wallace Beery plays "The Villain", namely, Buster's antagonist in all three stories.

This film provides examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew: In the stone age and Roman eras. For example, Buster's chariot has a license plate with roman numerals and a spare tire on the back.
  • Ancient Rome: The second of the three ages presented.
  • Balcony Wooing Scene: Buster tries to do this in the Roman scene and gets an urn on the head for his trouble.
  • Big Little Man: Caveman Buster tries to grab a woman lying on the ground by the hair and drag her away, as cavemen were apt to do back then. The woman stands up and turns out to be a good two feet taller than Buster.
  • Dragged by the Collar: A variation. In the stone age segments, female characters are sometimes dragged by their hair.
  • Loves Me Not: In the modern era, the boy tries using this method to find out whether the girl likes him. Unfortunately, he didn't notice that the flower had a bee on it.
  • Love Triangle: All three stories have Buster going up against a much bigger tough guy (namely, Wallace Beery) for the love of pretty Margaret Leahy.
  • Motivation on a Stick: During the chariot race, a cat is thrown on to the arena to distract Buster's dogs. He repurposes the feline to get the dogs to chase it.
  • Nubile Savage: Margaret Leahy, who plays the love interest in all three eras, got her start in films by winning a beauty contest.
  • The Oner: A caveman throws a rock at Buster, who uses a club to smack the stone back at his attacker, beaning him. Buster made a point of doing this gag in a single, continuous shot.
  • Roof Hopping: Subverted — even using a plank as a springboard, he doesn't make it. (This was an actual mishap that was worked into the film.)
  • Shout-Out: When challenged to a Chariot race and looking over his mismatched horses, Buster's steeds all become cut outs of Spark Plug from Barney Google.
  • Spoof Aesop: When The Roman-era boy winds up in a lion's cage, he recalls that someone, somewhere, did something to a lion's paw...and gives the lion a pedicure.
  • Stop Motion: Used in the first Stone Age section so Buster can ride a dinosaur.
  • Three Lines, No Waiting
  • Throw It In!: The failed Roof Hopping.
  • Unsuspectingly Soused: A man hides some illegal booze in a pitcher and Buster ends up drinking in during the modern age.