By the Sea (1915)
With this one-reel comedy made at Essanay, Charlie Chaplin returned to the plotless violence of his Keystone work, right after finishing his opus “The Tramp,” which had showed how much more he could do with the character. Although this may be a slight disappointment for those who want Charlie to take himself seriously as an artist, it is nevertheless a strong example of his powerful physical comedy and capacity for clowning.
On a windy day at a seaside resort, the “Little Tramp” has wisely tied his hat to a string so he won’t lose it. Unfortunately, another tourist (Billy Armstrong, who I mistook for Ben Turpin at first) has thought of the same thing, and their strings get hopelessly tangled. After a few pratfalls and mix-ups, Chaplin destroys the other man’s hat, precipitating a fight. They manage to make up after a policeman intervenes and the two knock out the cop and go off for ice cream (the ice cream clerk is Snub Pollard). Then another fight breaks out over who should pay, and of course both ice cream cones are smashed into faces. This brings big Bud Jamison into the scene, as an unintentional ice cream casualty. His wife is Edna Purviance, and of course Charlie takes advantage of opportunities to flirt with her. For once, she is not all that responsive and eventually Bud comes over to chase Charlie, who then finds Billy’s wife sitting alone and tries to flirt with her as well. The other two men discover what is happening and insert themselves on the bench between Charlie and his love-interests. Charlie tips over the bench and everyone falls over. The end.
Even by Chaplin one-reel standards, this is not very sophisticated stuff, but I had a good time watching it and was glad it didn’t overstay its welcome. I laughed quite a bit, especially during the “hat fight,” when it was clear that neither man would be able to walk away with his own hat without the strings tangling again. This is a very “simple” effect that worked really well – if the strings had accidentally become untangled during a take, the whole thing would have been ruined. I’m inclined to believe that the wind was real, not an effect, and it even seems possible that a windy day at the beach was the inspiration for the whole film, which was shot, we are told, at Ocean Front Walk and Abbott Kinney Pier in Venice, California (remember that the first “Little Tramp” movie, “Kid Auto Races,” also used a Venice location). Billy Armstrong acquitted himself well in this movie, at least as well as any of Charlie’s usual foils, and Bud Jamison is clearly comfortable in the comic “big man” role at this point. I’ve compared him in the past to Mack Swain, but I think I’ve now seen more of Jamison in this role than Swain, it’s just that Swain was in “The Gold Rush” and hence became famous. The major technical difference between this and the Keystone period, is the frequent use of close-ups, especially on Chaplin, which does make it seem a bit “warmer” in tone.This movie demonstrates that Charlie didn’t “grow up” overnight, but kept experimenting in the slapstick style through his early development.
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Camera: Harry Ensign
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Billy Armstrong, Edna Purviance, Bud Jamison, Snub Pollard, Ernest Van Pelt
Run Time: 14 Min