As D.W. Griffith portrayed intolerance over four ages in his 1916 film, Keaton compares love in Three Ages: the Stone Age, the Roman Age, and the Modern Age. It opens with man finding woman. In caveman days, Beauty (Margaret Leahy) is sought by an adventurer (Wallace Beery) and a faithful worshipper (Keaton). Her father selects the stronger Beery, so Keaton visits a fortune teller and learns that she loves only him. In Rome, charioteers Beery and Keaton converge on Leahy’s domicile. Roberts again favors Beery, so Keaton visits a soothsayer to know the future and shoot some dice. In contemporary times, the two suitors drive to her house (Keaton’s car hits a bump and disintegrates) where her mother selects Beery on the basis of his bank balance. Keaton consults a daisy, playing “loves me/loves me not.” She loves him.
Next, man attempts to arouse jealousy. In front of Leahy, Keaton flirts with a woman, but when she stands up she’s a foot taller than he is. She clubs him into the lake. Roman Keaton, his serenade interrupted by Beery dropping an urn on him, seems to succumb to the wiles of a vamp – but he wrestles her instead. Modern Keaton follows Beery and Leahy into a restaurant, where he briefly tries to charm a young lady with a very large boyfriend, drinks spiked water, and falls asleep. With a mash note purportedly from Keaton to the girl, Beery tricks the boyfriend into throwing Keaton out.
Men continue to fight over women. Beery challenges cave-Buster to a club fight, which Keaton wins by wedging a rock in his club. Beery’s friends discover his cheat, and they tie Keaton up to be dragged by a mammoth. Classical Beery challenges Keaton to a chariot race on a snowy day. Keaton wins by using a dog sled. Beery has him tossed into a lion’s den. In 1923, the rivals are on opposing football teams. Although Beery tackles him several times, Keaton scores the winning goal. Beery plants a flask on him, tips a cop off, and right before he’s hauled away, tells him of his impending marriage to Leahy.
Finally, man gets woman. In the Stone Age, Keaton snatches Leahy away from Beery and, after a chase, Keaton catapults himself onto Beery and knocks him out. He drags Leahy away by her hair. In Rome, Beery kidnaps Leahy. Keaton, after winning the lion’s affection with a manicure, saves her, knocking Beery out by removing the roof support columns. In modern times, at the police station Keaton steals Beery’s mug shots: he’s wanted for bigamy and forgery. He escapes over a roof, through a firehouse, and on a fire truck, and right back to the police station. Then he goes to the church where he pays for two taxis. He waits in a pew and pulls Leahy out when she comes up the aisle. While the party chases the first cab, the couple gets away in the second. He shows her Beery’s rap sheet. She kisses him, and he decides to go back to the church.
Has love changed in the three ages? Prehistoric Keaton and Leahy leave their cave, followed by a dozen children. The Roman pair has five kids in tow. The moderns walk out their door with their cute little dog. — Lisle Foote