Silent Saturday: More Chaplin Shorts
Rating: I don't rate shorts! Will you please stop expecting me to? It's borderline harassment!
The first four shorts in this three-parter can be found right here. This covers the middle four of his 12 two-reelers he did with Mutual. I assume the dvds present them in order of when they came out.
Like all of these, this short's plot meanders a lot more than any 25-30 minute film should. Chaplin filmed these things without having much experience writing scripts, and he went into these having outlines and ideas more than scripts. Sometimes, as with the case of this, that's actually a good thing as it helps the movie feel fresh and organic.
Also with all of these, this features both Edna Purviance, his muse at the time, and his Goliath Eric Campbell, a man who is about twice his size. Campbell and Chaplin play a pair of tailors who wind up at a ritzy party and try to fit in and win the affection of the rich girl. The plot is secondary to the slapstick shenanigans, and this one is packed with laughs. Chaplin's character's ineptitude and firing, a lack of table manners with both spaghetti and watermelon, the funniest hip injury I've ever seen, some great dance moves that turn in a classic 1916 butt-kicking contest, and a frantic escape from the party are highlights.
And also like these other shorts, this one uses very few title cards. Really, there aren't any that actually advance the plot, just a handful that make little jokes. The lack of intertitles help keep this thing swimming and make it feel more modern.
There's even a joke about sound in this one. Man, that Chaplin was a genius. And another thing this helps confirm--absolutely nobody could move like Chaplin.
Ladder hijinks, lots and lots of fisticuffs, and about as many slide whistles as there were in that fireman one from the first batch of these. "The Pawnshop" is funny although it's even more episodic than most of the others.
What this helps illustrate about Chaplin is one of my favorite things about his characters--that they can be so clumsy and so graceful at the same time. Again, his character is completely inept as the assistant at a pawnshop. He's constantly jacking shit up, but he does it with the elegance of a ballerina and it's charming. Falling with grace isn't easy, and Chaplin does it so effortlessly in this.
James T. Kelley has a great part in this one as a guy who has been dead for 105 years. He's got a sad story.
There are a handful of really good bits, but my favorite is watching Chaplin repair a clock. It's the kind of thing you see a lot in silent comedies, but that doesn't make it any less amusing.
Behind the Screen
Not my favorite Chaplin short here. I remember seeing this one before, but I still hoped there would be more of a glimpse at the creation of movies during this time than there was. The gags didn't really work with me here although I enjoyed watching Chaplin pulling a lever.
The end erupts into a pie fight, just characters hurling pies at each other for what seems to be fifteen minutes. I'm sure it's the kind of thing that was a lot more fun to actually film than it was to watch.
If you want to marvel at Chaplin's prowess at roller-skating, it's more impressive in Modern Times. But it's still fun to watch in this one. Here's how I think this one went down. Chaplin wanted to do some things in a restaurant, mostly involving a pair of doors, and then ran out of ideas and said, "Fuck it! Let's just do some skating." He probably thought it would get him laid even more than he was getting laid for just being Charlie Chaplin.
As a narrative, this one doesn't make a lot of sense, but if you're watching these 30 minute movies for a good story, you're probably not watching them for the right reason. This isn't one of the very best of his Mutual shorts, but like all of them, it's worth watching. And his roller skating really is impressive.
And I laughed out loud while watching this. If you can make something that has people laughing out loud 100 years later, you've probably done something right.