Chaplin Mutual Shorts: Part Three

1916-17 shorts

Rating: no rating

We're at the end of the school year, the second year I've had with this batch of students. They're about to head to the high school, and I don't really feel like I've taught them much. The way our schedule works, my second class of the day has an extra half an hour every single day. Lately, I've stopped caring about language arts and have decided to just show that class silent comedies. If I've taught them nothing else, I'll at least teach some of them to appreciate Chaplin and Keaton. So far, we've watched a Buster Keaton short and The General and The Gold Rush and Modern Times. They laugh and, I think, enjoy the movies enough. They definitely prefer Chaplin over Keaton though, but I've got a few Keaton shorts up my sleeve that I think will knock them out.

But this isn't about Buster. This is about Chaplin's shorts that he made for Mutual. The other two can be found here and here.

Easy Street

This classic comedy short has a great opening shot--a curled Chaplin at the steps of Hope Mission. From there, it unfolds in that typical comedy short stream-of-conscious fashion with the character bouncing around from situation to barely-connected situation so that comedy can happen. Here, a tramp (but not necessarily the Little Tramp) becomes a police officer and helps rid a neighborhood of crime.

There's great physical comedy and action sequences, but I'm most impressed with Chaplin's acting here. He does some beautiful and modern things here, and it's amazing that he's doing it in 1917 and that he'd only been doing it for a few years.

A funny bottle gag, Eric Campbell tossing around police officers and one hilarious police officer dummy, a weaponized lamppost that led to a Chaplin injury, and a great use of limited space in a climactic chase/fight sequence. It all shows that Chaplin, when given complete control, was world's better than anybody else working at the time.

This movie also shows the powers of drug use similarly to a scene taking place in prison in Modern Times. Chaplin seemed to revisit his ideas quite a bit actually. But why not when the ideas are this fucking good?

The Cure

It's not 1917, but I'm just as entertained at watching exaggerated drunkenness just as much as audiences back then. There's probably a lot that makes me old fashioned, but that might be the number one thing.

This one's funny though you look at the initial set-up and figure out exactly what some of the physical comedy's going to be. Yes, Chaplin's upper-class little fellow and likely others are going to fall in that hole. Yes, that revolving door is going to be used for humorous effect. Yes, he's going to meet a girl. But it all works so well, and you can hardly complain about any unpredictability. And with the added ironic twist featuring that hole of healing waters, it becomes magical.

As with almost all of these shorts, this features both Eric Campbell, this time as a guy suffering from the Gout, and the lovely Edna Purviance as the love interest. It's also got the old guy as a bell hop.

And man, there really is a lot of play with that revolving door. The amount of time these cartoon characters go through that revolving door is something that you couldn't predict.

The Immigrant

If I had to, I'd guess this was the very first Chaplin short I ever saw--way back when I was a little kid and only slightly bigger than Charlie Chaplin. As a kid, I think I could identify with him because he was a little fellow, an underdog. Here, he's playing another traditional underdog character--an immigrant.

This short is top-heavy with all the funniest bits--the fish, the hiccups, the wildly-rocking boat--all happening in the first half. If it maintained that level of greatness throughout, this would be the first Chaplin I'd expose other people to. It's not that the second half isn't worth watching, but this is definitely a case of a movie shooting its wad too early.

One of my favorite things I like about Chaplin is watching his characters fall in love. It's old-fashioned, trite, and whatever other adjective you want to throw at it, and if one actually acted like Chaplin does when he experiences love at first sight, he'd likely be arrested, but they are some of my favorite movie moments ever.

The Adventurer 

Buster Keaton's physical abilities are perhaps more obvious, but you shouldn't underestimate Chaplin's athletic prowess. That's on display here in this short where he plays a convict on the run from the law. He plays with sand and hills and water, showing off his swimming skills. The direction shows a creative use of the landscape. You almost get the sense that he had a tiny bit of an idea and one more film to do with Mutual and decided to just find a location and see what he could do.

Lots of butt-kicking with slide whistles in this one. I'll say this about the butt-kicking. It still works with middle school audiences. I'd really like to see the Fast and Furious franchise incorporate kicks to the rear in their fight scenes eventually.

Sadly, this is Eric Campbell's final film. He was killed because he was driving while intoxicated.

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