Max Linder, the gifted French comedian who may have ranked among the giants of silent film comedy had he not committed suicide, gives a perfect example of his considerable gifts in “Seven Years Bad Luck,” a film from 1921. Linder plays Max, a fun-loving man about town engaged to be married to Betty (Alta Allen). He arrives home after a drunken binge and in the midst of sleeping off his drunkenness, a servant breaks his full-size mirror. Eager to cover it up, the servant cleans up the broken parts and helps Max Linder perform his famous “mirror gag.” In this hilarious sequence, the servant mimics every move Max makes in front of the “mirror.” Max slowly begins to figure out the ruse, and does some quick flinches to throw the servant off. However, it takes time for Max to catch him and the joke pays off again and again.
Eventually, Max visits Betty at her house, where he becomes so spooked by her little dog that he hides it in a vase. Betty calls off the engagement, and then allows Max to come back. While waiting for her, Max puts on a record and begins to wildly dance with the maid. Betty sees him and again calls off the engagement. At this point, I wondered why the handsome and debonair Max wants Betty in the first place, put he refuses to give up his quest for her. Max sets off on a train trip but doesn’t have a ticket, which provides us with a long sequence and foot chase through the moving train. At one point, Max puts a stocking over his face and wears a servant’s uniform to get away from the angry conductor. Despite his predicament, Max still finds time to flirt with one of the female passengers, who seems more than willing to oblige his interest.
Max causes further hijinks at the train depot, where his impersonates a station agent under the admiring eye of the agent’s own daughter. At this point, I assumed the much-in-demand Max would get over Betty and move on to another woman. But by an extraordinary coincidence, Max meets up with Betty again. The program notes for the 2014 San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which screened the film, says the lack of commercial success for Seven Years Bad Luck helped set off Max Linder’s depression. I find it hard to believe that Linder could not find an audience for this crowd-pleasing film. It contains a good story, plenty of comedy, and good direction from Linder himself. The mirror gag alone makes it worth watching.