Three Ages is a 1923 black-and-white American feature-length silent comedy film starring comedian Buster Keaton and Wallace Beery. The first feature Keaton wrote, directed, produced, and starred in (unlike The Saphead (1920), in which he only acted), Keaton structured the film like three inter-cut short films. The structure also worked as a satire of D. W. Griffith’s 1916 film Intolerance. The film was shot in this manner as a kind of insurance for the studio. While Keaton was a proven success in the short film medium, he had yet to prove himself as a feature-length star. Had the project flopped, the film would have been broken into three short films, each covering one of the ‘Ages.’
Three plots in three different historical periods—prehistoric times, Ancient Rome, and modern times (the Roaring Twenties)—are intercut to prove the point that man’s love for woman has not significantly changed throughout history. In all three plots, characters played by the small and slight Buster Keaton and handsome bruiser Wallace Beery compete for the attention of the same woman, played by Margaret Leahy. Each plot follows similar “arcs” in the story line in which Keaton’s character works for his beloved’s attention and eventually wins her over.
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