Three Ages (1923)

“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.”

In three different historical eras (the Stone Age, Roman times, and 1920s New York), a young man (Buster Keaton) vies for the attentions of a beautiful girl (Margaret Leahy) against a bigger, stronger, and/or wealthier suitor (Wallace Beery).


Buster Keaton’s first feature film (originally conceived as three separate two-reelers, in case it bombed as a full-length movie) is an enjoyable satire on D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916), similarly presenting thematic links — here, on the challenges of romantic pursuit — between several historical eras. It’s amusing to witness Keaton’s hapless yet doggedly resilient persona facing such similar challenges in each of his iterations, and to see the immensely clever — if occasionally foolhardy — ways in which he attempts to foil his opponent. The film’s most surreal moment (just one among many): Keaton gives a lion a manicure. (!!)

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Plenty of humorous moments and classically Keatonian slapstick

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly of historical interest, and a must for diehard Keaton fans.


One Response to “Three Ages (1923)”

  1. Not a must.

    It’s not that it’s not among Keaton’s more memorable films – it’s certainly consistently charming and an interesting showcase for Keaton front and center at all times. But the through-line is very slight indeed – even for Keaton – and there’s an emphasis on sight-gags (albeit some very inspired ones: Keaton atop a prehistoric dinosaur; a cavewoman delirious about being dragged home by the hair – since that’s clearly ‘proof’ of a man’s love; Keaton playing football; the manicure; etc.). A welcome addition is Wallace Beery ever on the sidelines as Keaton’s ‘eternal’ nemesis; Beery doesn’t have all that much to do, but he has presence.

    This isn’t Keaton at his best or worst – it’s a mild romp.

    Fave bit: Keaton watches the woman next to him in a restaurant begin to freshen her make-up. Considering he should probably do a little ‘primping’ too, he takes out what he needs and begins shaving.

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