In 1920, a very spoiled critic for the New York Times wrote that One Week merely "has more fun in it than most slapstick trick property comedies" (October 25). Now most critics think it's one of the most auspicious debuts in American film.
The film takes place over seven days. On Monday the 9th, "wedding bells have such a sweet sound but such a sour echo." As Keaton and his bride (Sybil Seely) leave the church they're showered with rice and old shoes. Keaton selects a pair that fit, then they get into the back of Handy Hank's car (the fellow she turned down). Hank hands Keaton a note from Uncle Mike, who has given him a house and a lot. They depart.
Hank interrupts every time Keaton tries to steal a kiss from Seely, so he hails a cab driving parallel to them. Seely makes it into the moving vehicle, but a motorcycle runs into Keaton and carries him away. After he falls off, Keaton climbs back on, rides to a traffic cop, kicks him down, and stops the cab. While a woozy cop blames Hank, Keaton and Seely get into Hank's car and drive off.
They pull up to their lot - 99 - and find boxed building materials. The delivery man plops the final box from the Home Portable Housing Co. in front of them, announcing "Here's your house." According to the directions, if they follow the numbers on the boxes they'll achieve a snappy appearance. Seely gets the tools and they set to work.
By Tuesday the 10th, the framing is nearly up. Keaton nails in a final piece; while seated on the overhanging bit he saws it off and falls to the ground, just in time for breakfast. Hank sees the couple kissing and he angrily re-numbers the boxes. Later, as Keaton hammers above, Seely dallies on the first floor windowsill. The entire panel pivots vertically, then falls off, leaving her stranded on top.
On Wednesday the 11th, the outside is assembled but askew. The front door is on the second floor, the roof opens at the ends, and several windows are parallelograms. Seely shows her husband her handiwork: two hearts pierced by an arrow painted on the house. After a kiss, Keaton goes to the back of the house where the kitchen sink is outside. As he goes in, he swivels the panel on which the sink is mounted to the inside.
Joe Roberts single-handedly carries a piano to the house. Keaton tries to climb out a window on a ladder, but he breaks the slats and falls. He joins Roberts who hands the piano to him, crushing him. To obtain a signature, Roberts picks up the instrument, shows Keaton where to sign, then drops it back on to him. Eventually Roberts takes pity on Keaton, moving the piano and picking him up by the vest. He leaves.
Next the couple must move the piano inside. Seely ties a rope around it while Keaton uses a first floor light fixture as a pulley. He pulls on the rope, which pulls the second floor down, along with Hank who's getting ready to wallpaper the room. Hank yells, Keaton lets go, and Hank springs up. His head goes through the roof. Keaton rescues him (climbing up on the porch railing converted into a ladder) by inadvertently hitting him on the head with the lever he had unsuccessfully used to try to pry him out.
Seely and Keaton return to the piano. After nearly hanging himself on the rope, Keaton braces the ceiling and pulls the piano inside. It swings wildly then crashes through the floor. Seely brings in some sheet music: "The End of a Perfect Day."
On Thursday the 12th, Keaton installs a carpet in the living room and over his jacket. He retrieves his clothing by cutting a hole around it, placing a mat over the hole, and converting the remnant into a welcome mat. Meanwhile, following an accident with a milk bottle, Seely takes a bath. When she drops the soap outside of the tub, the cameraman helpfully covers the lens while she grabs it. Keaton next places the prefab chimney on the roof, falling through the hole and into the tub. After a lecture from his showering wife, he blindly walks out the misplaced second floor front door and falls to the ground.
Naturally the housewarming is on Friday the 13th. The couple's friends eat in the dining room, including Hank, who steals other people's sandwiches. Keaton takes them back, so Hank chases him. Keaton leads him to the second floor front door, lets him out, and he runs until he hits a fence.
While Keaton gives some guests a tour, it begins to rain through his perforated roof. He opens an umbrella and goes outside to have a look. The wind spins the house: slowly at first, then rapidly. Guests are thrown around the room while Keaton tries to jump in. Eventually he leaps in, only to be thrown out. Soon his wife and their guests are also ejected through doors and windows; one thanks him for the lovely afternoon on the merry-go-round. The guests leave, and Keaton and Seely sit dejected on a box.
After the storm on Saturday the 14th, they're still on the box. The ramshackle house horrifies them both. Then the manager drops by to tell them they've built on the wrong lot - they belong across the railroad tracks. Seely grows more upset, but they begin to prepare the house for moving by removing some baseboards and inserting barrels as rollers.
By Sunday the 15th the house is on rollers and rope to their car. The contraption moves until it gets stuck on the railroad tracks. Despite her pushing, and his nailing the car's back seat to the building (which only succeeds in detaching the undercarriage from the car's body), the house remains stuck. A train comes. They jump off of the tracks. But the train is on a parallel track, and misses the house. Relieved, they go back to arguing. Another train comes on the house's track, splintering it to bits. Keaton puts up a "For Sale" sign, leaving the directions with it, and the two walk away, hand in hand.
(In the 1980's Kevin Brownlow found the film that inspired One Week. Entitled Home Made, it was an educational film about the ease of building a prefabricated house in seven days. [Marion Meade, Cut to the Chase, p. 393]) — Lisle Foote