Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Billy Armstrong

Triple Trouble (1918)

This is sort of a “fake” Charlie Chaplin movie, but one which nevertheless stars Charlie Chaplin! In 1918, years after losing the star to Mutual, Essanay, his sophomore studio, stitched together this “new” film from footage he left at the studio (some already released), adding some material directed by his co-star Leo White and releasing it to a Chaplin-hungry public that didn’t know any better.

The movie begins with a random close-up of Charlie with a cigar in his mouth, but the plot begins when we see “Colonel A. Nutt,” who is building a new type of “wireless explosive.” The wartime origin of this new footage influences this plotline, which involves a spy ring led by diplomats from “Pretzelstrasse” (Leo White is the lead agent). Meanwhile, Charlie is introduced as the new janitor in the Nutt House, and there’s some good otherwise unreleased footage of his antics in the kitchen with cook Billy Armstrong and flirting with maid Edna Purviance. Charlie empties most of the food the cook has prepared into the dustbin and then proceeds to strew garbage all over the place by carrying it on his back, even dumping it on poor Edna. We see Leo White at a fence and the dustbin appears over the edge, making it seem that Charlie is dumping the remainder of the trash on him! (Close attention reveals that Charlie has four arms in this scene). Edna and Charlie get into a fight in the kitchen, but the wet rag she throws at him flies into adjoining rooms, hitting Billy and Leo instead, so they blame one another and then get into a fight as well. Soon, Billy figures out where the rag came from and goes to punish Edna, only to find himself confronted by Charlie’s wrath (a boot to the rear). The Colonel finds Leo in bad spirits after his confrontation, and ejects the man without hearing him out.

Charlie now heads to a doss house to spend the night, having completed his dubious day’s work. Charlie has various comic adventures there – lighting a man’s toes on fire, conking a loud-singing drunk over the head with a bottle, and outsmarting a thief who comes in to rob the vagrants. Meanwhile, a pickpocket (Billy Armstrong in different clothes) tries to hold up Leo White and is recruited into the scheme to rob the Nutts. A nearby policeman overhears the plan and calls in other officers, busy playing craps in an abandoned lot. They rush to the Nutt House, where they explain that they are on the trail of a large crime, and occupy the living room. A riot breaks out in the dosshouse and Charlie is forced to flee, ending up with Billy, who talks him into joining the robbery of the Nutt House. The cops are all still there; lying around, smoking, waiting for something to happen. Pandemonium breaks out when the pickpocket enters the house, and amid the chaos, Colonel Nutt’s explosive device is detonated, blowing all of the cops skyward. In the aftermath, the pickpocket is buried in a heap of rubble and Charlie is seen poking his head out of the kitchen stove.

While this is far from Charlie’s best movie (or even his movie, really), it is kind of fun from a historical view to try to figure out which scenes were made when. A good portion of it (especially the dosshouse) was used in the Flicker Alley release of “Police,” and may have been shot for that movie. Or, it may have been shot for “Life,” an incomplete semi-autobiographical project Chaplin worked on at Essanay. Certainly the “janitor” sequences come from this source. Other parts, with Leo White and the “Pretzelstrasse,” were shot afterwards directed by White, and inter-cut with the Chaplin footage to appear to be part of the same movie. Some of this is laughably unsuccessful. The final explosion and head-in-stove sequence is straight from “Work.” The result of this piecemeal story engineering is a rather disjointed film which at times feels more like an anthology of very short shorts than a coherent film. The parts which include Chaplin, however, are up to his usual standards in terms of physical comedy and there are at least a few laughs to be found here. I particularly enjoy the early scenes of Charlie as a hapless janitor in a wealthy home, operating within the Upstairs/Downstairs world of the servants.

Chaplin himself was “Not Amused,” however. He sent a telegram to the “Moving Picture World” informing them of the dubious nature of the movie and asking that false advertising for it be “stamped out.” However, having already lost a legal battle to prevent Essanay from releasing the extended version of “Burlesque on Carmen,” he kept his criticism to the trades this time. Essanay defended their right to re-cut Chaplin footage and present it as “new.” After all, no one had seen this movie before, had they? It was largely academic, because it was out by this time and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. It entered the public domain since Chaplin never reissued it with an original score, and thus it actually may have had more releases since that time than many of his early Essanays. It remains a part of his legacy, though decidedly a part he never could control.

Director: Charlie Chaplin.Leo White

Camera: Harry Ensign

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Leo White, Billy Armstrong, Bud Jamison, Albert Austin, Snub Pollard, Wesley Ruggles

Run Time: 23 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Police (1916)

Police_1916With this, I’ve reviewed every movie Charlie Chaplin made during his one-year tenure at Essanay Studios (there are still some outstanding Keystones still from 1914, but there were so many of those!). As a lot of folks know, Chaplin kept signing one-year contracts at studios, then asking for more money, and moving somewhere else when he didn’t get it. At the end of 1914, he asked $1000 a week from Keystone, and got offered $1200 a week from Essanay (plus a $10,000 bonus). At the end of that year, he asked for $150,000 just to sign, Essanay wouldn’t go that high, so he went to Mutual, which offered him $670,000 a year.

A man without a past.

A man without a past.

This movie was released in modified form by Essanay after Charlie left, but it survived in better shape than “Burlesque on Carmen,” which Chaplin repudiated as a hack job. It begins with Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” getting released from prison with 1$ in his pocket. We don’t know what he did to get punished, but we get the feeling it was petty larceny from his later behavior. He meets a street preacher, who offers to help him go straight. Charlie is moved to tears by his readings from the Bible, but fails to notice that the preacher steals his dollar. He passes a drunk with an expensive pocket watch, and is sorely tempted to steal it, but manages to resist. Then he goes to a fruit vendor and samples various fruits, discarding each after a single bite. The vendor demands that he pay, and now he realizes he has lost his money. When he goes back to look for it, he discovers that the preacher has also stolen the drunk’s watch. He attacks the next preacher he sees (not the same fellow), and a cop intercedes, chasing him away. Destitute, he heads to a flophouse in hope of getting a bed for the night, but he can’t even afford the dime to get in. He sees the manager let a tubercular man in for free, and tries faking a cough, only to be forcibly ejected.

Not the best burglars around.

Not the best burglars around.

Out on the streets again, Charlie is held up by a thug in an alley (Wesley Ruggles), but they quickly recognize one another as former cellmates. He agrees to help the thug burgle a wealthy-looking house. He tries to break in, but they are seen by a cop. Charlie knocks the cop out and tries the front door – it was open all along. The two partners go in and start trying to loot the place, but Charlie keeps making noise inadvertently and has some odd ideas what is worth stealing (at one point, he takes all the flowers out of the vases, and keeps the flowers). He has awoken Edna Purviance, the resident of the house, and she comes downstairs to investigate. When she finds the two men, she doesn’t care about losing valuables, but she begs them not to disturb her sick mother upstairs. Charlie agrees, and she provides the robbers with beer and sandwiches, but also takes an opportunity to call the police. Ruggles gets increasingly agitated, particularly when he notices her fancy rings, and demands to see what she has hidden upstairs. She again protests that her mother could die of shock if they went up there, but Ruggles tries to force his way past her. When he prepares to strike her, Charlie suddenly leaps to the rescue. The two men fight, and Charlie wins. Now the police arrive, finding their comrade unconscious on the porch, and break in. Ruggles escapes out a back window, but Charlie is too slow. Edna now intercedes and claims Charlie is her husband, so the cops leave, reluctantly, while Charlie lights up a cigar. Edna gives Charlie a little money and he promises to go straight, leaving the house a bit of a mess, but mostly no worse for wear.

Not the Keystone Kops, but a brilliant simulation.

Not the Keystone Kops, but a brilliant simulation.

This was easily my favorite Essanay Chaplin film, even though several others were good. Chaplin’s timing and physical stunts are perfect, and he makes “accidents” look like they really are happening without conscious effort, although in fact they are perfectly timed maneuvers. The camera is more mobile, and there are more close-ups than in earlier films, and time has been taken with the editing and multiple camera set-ups within scenes. Chaplin’s character is now fully sympathetic – when he does the “wrong” things it is out of necessity or frustration, not malice, and he shows an ability to make the “right” decisions when it really matters. The opening, which shows his release from the prison, establishes a theme in future Chaplin movies (up to “Modern Times’), that shows the Tramp in a transitional phase from being unable to fit into society to trying to “make good” in a world that has no kindness for him. When a rare person (like Edna) shows him decency, he returns it with decency, and shows that he isn’t bad, just lost and victimized by the world (like all of us).

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Wesley Ruggles, Leo White, John Rand, Billy Armstrong, Snub Pollard, Bud Jamison

Run Time: 34 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music & 23 Min) or here (with music, but edited down to 15 Min)

Shanghaied (1915)

Shanghaied_(1915_film_SW_poster)With the year drawing to a close, it seems appropriate to return to a few of the groundbreaking shorts Charlie Chaplin contributed to Essanay in 1915. This one, released in October, represents some of the better work he did that year.

Shanghaied

Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” is in love, again. With Edna Purviance, again. Her father (Wesley Ruggles, this time) disapproves, again. The twist this time is that Daddy owns a boat, which he has decided is a liability, so he conspires with the ship’s captain and first mate to blow it up and collect the insurance. Charlie, trying to get a job and make good, is hired to “recruit” sailors for the ship. He hides in a barrel and cold-cocks each person that the mate (Bud Jamison). Once the crew is assembled, Charlie demands his pay, but the captain and the mate pull the same trick on him.

Shanghaied1The newly assembled “crew” is told its duties and abused, then thrown into the hold. Charlie tries to avoid this treatment by getting busy right away, but he goofs up and winds up in the hold. Charlie knocks several people, including the captain, into the ocean while trying to direct the crane to load the hold. He gets taken on by the cook as an assistant in the galley and there are a variety of funny sequences with him dropping a sponge in the soup, breaking plates, and generally being unable to serve food in the rolling sea. When it comes time for him to eat, he gets seasick. Now we learn that Edna Purviance has stowed away on board. She and Charlie meet up, but the bad guys have already lit the dynamite. Her father finds a note and races to meet the boat in a motorboat. Charlie throws the bomb into the lifeboat the bad guys are using to get away, then gets into the motorboat with Edna and her father, ultimately kicking the father into the water and speeding away, happy.

Shanghaied2This is a fairly violent and perhaps “vulgar” (to use the word critics bandied about at the time) example of Charlie’s slapstick, but it has a number of good laughs and gags that he hadn’t used up to this point. We are getting used to seeing the style of editing Chaplin developed from Keystone and refined in his year at Essanay, and he is now comfortable using close-ups to emphasize reactions and promote sympathy in the audience. Charlie also does a funny bit where he “salutes” the captain, but (seemingly by mistake) puts his thumb to his nose as he does so. This seems to represent his comedic rejection of authority even while bowing to it. I felt that it moved faster than the similar two-reel comedies he released earlier in the year and was a good representation of the higher aspirations he had for his artistry: just getting the boat had to be a major budget item for an Essanay comedy short.

Shanghaied3Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Bud Jamison, Edna Purviance, Wesley Ruggles, Billy Armstrong, Leo White

Run Time: 27 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).

The Bank (1915)

With “The Tramp,” it seemed Charlie Chaplin turned a corner in his comic career. With this Essanay short movie, he finally seems committed to the new direction. His character is more sympathetic and less intentionally violent, he is still clumsy and awkward, but more lovable, and where he does use violence, it is mostly in self-defense or in a good cause.

Bank_(1915_film)Charlie arrives at a bank in “Little Tramp” get up. It seems as though he is someone of importance, as he moves confidently through this space usually restricted to those in power. He reaches a giant safe and opens the door, to reveal a mop, bucket, and janitor’s uniform. At last, we understand his position in the institution. He goes to “work” mopping floors, in the process hitting employees and customers with his mop several times. His mop drips into a stovepipe hat of a wealthy customer which has been left on the floor while he sits in an easy chair. The man yells at Charlie to stop, and he politely hands him his hat…the owner puts it on and receives a deluge of dirty, soapy water. Charlie proceeds to get into a competition with his fellow janitor (Billy Armstrong), one cleaning the president’s outer office, the other the inner. They continually sweep their junk from one side to the other until there is a massive mess, made all the worse when Charlie turns a fan so it blows sheets of paper from the president’s desk to the floor.

Bank1Meanwhile, stenographer Edna Purviance arrives and she is carrying a wrapped gift and a flower. Charlie gets nosy and finds it is addressed to “Charles.” The lovely young secretary is in love with him! We soon learn that this is wrong, there is a teller named “Charles” (Carl Stockdale) whom Edna loves. Charlie rushes out to get her a bouquet of flowers, leaving a note on her desk. She thinks it’s from her Charles, of course, and thanks him, but he denies sending them. He looks at the note and tells her it’s from the janitor. She then throws away Charlie’s flowers while he watches from outside the office door. Heartbroken, Charlie heads downstairs to engage in a little more slapstick competition with Armstrong, then goes to the janitors’ station and clutches what remains of the flowers as he naps. Suddenly, a gang of robbers enters the bank, threatening all the workers and demanding to be let in to the vault. The others comply, and just as the bandits are going to force Edna into the vault, Charlie awakens and goes into action. Using all his slapstick kicks and trips, he turns the tables on the robbers, knocking two of them into the safe and closing it. Then, carrying the fainted Edna over his shoulder, he disarms the other bank robbers and saves the day. Edna awakes and kisses him…And suddenly he awakes and finds himself kissing his mop. It has all been a dream, and he kicks his sad little flowers away to symbolize moving on.

BankMuch has been made about the use of close-ups in this movie, and especially the close-up of Charlie as he watches Edna tear up his note and throw his flowers in the garbage. I don’t actually think there are more close-ups here than in previous Essanay comedies shot by Harry Ensign, or closer ones, or technically “better” ones. The difference is in Charlie’s acting. He’s finally figured out the power that the close-up gives to allow an actor to share a complex series of emotions with an audience, to make them really identify with the character and feel what he is feeling. Maybe because he was directing himself, he was able to “get” this before most other actors or directors did. You see some hints of it with Griffith and Gish, for example, but more often in the context of a simpler emotion such as fear or ecstasy. Charlie lets his face play out a scene here, something I don’t think I’ve seen another actor do up to this point.

Bank2The fantasy sequence makes a very interesting contrast to “The Tramp” as well, where Charlie actually does save Edna and her father from robbers, but loses her anyway. In both cases, the audience gets to enjoy the sense of heroism from the character they now sympathize with. Whereas in Charlie’s “park” movies, his violence is random and hard to justify, here he is able to use physical comedy and violence in a cause we feel comfortable with – these characters clearly deserve what they get. In both cases, this adds to the suffering we feel when his “reward” is taken away from him. Note that the assumption of receiving love as a “reward” for heroic acts takes the human agency away from the female character in this situation, making her an object of love rather than a participant – and it’s a familiar narrative in fairy tales, novels, and many other cultural forms. But Chaplin-as-director returns that agency to the woman, forcing Chaplin-as-Tramp (and the audience) to accept her power, however painful that misdirection may be for him (and us). Misdirection is now the key to both Charlie’s comedy (as in the opening, where we think Charlie is in charge of the bank, but discover him to be the janitor) and his more “tragic” or serious acting.

Bank3As a final note, it’s interesting that in this movie Charlie spends most of the running time out of his familiar costume, wearing a reasonably well-fitted uniform as a janitor. We’ve become so used to the iconic look that he doesn’t need to rely on it anymore. His mustache is enough to signal us to his persona, and it is the consistent thread that carries us through here, as it is in the “Burlesque on Carmen.”

Director: Charles Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Cast: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Charles Inslee, Billy Armstrong, Carl Stockdale

Run Time: 26 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).

A Woman (1915)

Doesn't look like rain...

Doesn’t look like rain…

Charlie Chaplin’s classic Keystone formula of “A girl, a park, and a policeman” gets his more sophisticated Essanay treatment, before taking a sudden turn into cross-dressing and gender bending relationships. This may have been one of the movies Sime Silverman thought was “dirty” or “vulgar,” but for slapstick fans, it’s hard to top.

 

This begins with a happy family in the park – father (Charles Inslee), mother (Marta Golden), and grown daughter (Edna Purviance), gently snoozing in the shade of a tree. Mother snores, so father can’t sleep, and thus is awake when a pretty girl (Margie Reiger) walks by and waves. Father pursues her, and she shows an interest, even though he’s clearly married. He goes to get them sodas from a nearby vendor, and along comes the “Little Tramp,” walking over garden hoses and thinking that it’s raining. He takes an interest in the girl, who is as happy with one guy as another. Then the father hits him with a bottle and chases him off. There are more escapades, and for a while the father is blindfolded in a game of “hide and seek,” giving Charlie an opportunity for revenge and to push his adversary into the lake. He then finds Edna and mother and, away from the father, is able to impress them enough to get an invitation back to the home. He does his little “tea party” routine for them and is getting into their good graces when father comes home. He’s ready to put his best foot forward, but Inslee recognizes him and a fight breaks out, during which Charlie’s pants are torn off, revealing typical striped comic long johns. He runs upstairs, looking for clothes, and comes across a dummy in a white dress. A lightbulb goes off over his head. With Edna’s help, Charlie is able to get into the dress and some decent shoes (and shave his famous moustache). He again begins a flirtation with the father and the father’s friend (Billy Armstrong), and tricks the two of them into kissing one another. Finally, the father figures it out, but Chaplin promises to keep everything from his wife in exchange for his blessing to see Edna. It looks like all is well, but Inslee has the last laugh.

Woman1Apparently, this was the last time Chaplin appeared in drag. I’ve talked about one of the other examples in “The Masquerader” and there’s also “A Busy Day,” which I haven’t gotten to, yet. In those terms, I think he did better in “A Masquerader,” where I had to watch twice to figure out that it was him. However, this movie works better overall than that one, in part because Chaplin really does take some time to be sympathetic and lovable, as opposed to just flirtatious and violent. I think this is one of the best “park” sequences I’ve seen – and Chaplin’s character really does show a decided duality between his behavior toward the boorish father versus the pleasant mother and daughter. He’s really only in drag for the final three minutes of the movie, although he does flirt with mistaken-gender identity during the blind-man’s-bluff routine. Other comedians (notably Fatty Arbuckle and Julian Eltinge) got a lot more mileage out of gender-bending than Charlie did, and I don’t get the feeling that he was entirely comfortable with it, but it’s worth seeing him do it to the best of his ability.

Woman2Technically, this movie is at the standard we’ve come to expect in Essanay comedies of the time. This movie comes about halfway through his contract with Essanay, and like others of the period, makes good use of close-ups, tight editing, and realistic lighting. The action is fast paced and highly reliant on timing, and Charlie pulls off some very nice stunts and good uses of his cane as a weapon or prop.

Woman3Director: Charles Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Charles Inslee, Billy Armstrong, Marta Golden, Margie Reiger

Run Time: 26 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music).

Work (1915)

In this Charlie Chaplin short from Essanay, Chaplin returns to a somewhat more nuanced, sympathetic performance while still sticking to the familiar tropes of slapstick: violence, revenge, flirtation, and people slipping and falling down.

Work1We are introduced to a family of husband (Billy Armstrong), wife (Marta Golden), and maid (Edna Purviance), who are expecting contractors to come and finish the wall-paper-hanging in their rather cramped-looking mansion. The husband is annoyed because he can’t go into the living room (everything is being boxed up for the work to be done) and his breakfast is late). The wife is still in her bedclothes, and she and the maid work hard at getting things ready before the arrival of the contractors. These, we see, are Charlie Chaplin and his boss Charles Inslee, who is “driving” Chaplin as a kind of rickshaw-rider with all of their equipment piled into an oversized cart. After several near-misses with streetcars, Charlie manages to get the contraption up the hill to the house. Then, of course, they proceed to ruin the room they are meant to be working on, getting glue and paper everywhere. Meanwhile, Charlie flirts with the maid and tells her his sad life story. Then, he wrecks her room as well for good measure. Now, a mysterious fop (Leo White) shows up and presents flowers to the wife, who tries to cover for him, claiming he’s one of the workers. The husband, still suspicious finds the flowers with Charlie and goes for his gun. He shoots wildly, chasing the gigolo around the house until he hits a gas line and makes the oven explode. The household is covered in rubble, Charlie decided to hide out in the oven.

Work4My own reaction to this movie, which came out after “By the Sea,” is that it was a bit of a step back towards the sympathy and subtlety of “The Tramp,” while still full of classic slapstick gags. The situation of workers in the domestic setting is a classic one for physical comedy, and has been done dozens of times. The situation is inherently invasive, and often while the work proceeds, one’s house begins to look like a disaster zone and one wonders if it will ever be put right. Opportunities for physical mishaps abound. Many of us live in fear of having contractors like these, and that’s part of where the everyman humor of the situation is so recognizable. One good bit that stood out to me was when the wife realized that she had left the good silver out in the room where Charlie & Charlie are working, and rushes in to put it in the safe. They look at each other, and take out their pocket watches, carefully placing them in Chaplin’s pocket and then sealing it shut with a safety pin. A great working-class comeuppance to middle class snobbery. The sequence in which Inslee drives Chaplin like a mule has also been suggested to have class war implications vis-à-vis management and labor.

Work2This time I’d also like to take a moment to look at contemporary reactions. This quote is from Variety, review by Sime Silverman: “This Essanay release of the Charlie Chaplin picture for this week is Work in two reels. It is the usual Chaplin work of late, mussy, messy, and dirty. Chaplin has found that the public will stand for his picture comedy of the worst kind, and he is giving them the worst kind, although as an excellent pantomimist, with a reserve of decent comedy, Chaplin must have decided the time to put his other brand upon the screen is when his present style of ‘humor’ shall have ceased to be in demand. The Censor Board is passing matter in the Chaplin films that could not possibly get by in other pictures. Never anything dirtier was placed upon the screen than Chaplin’s ‘Tramp,’ and while this may have been objected to by the censors, it merely taught Chaplin what to avoid and how far to go. Work, however, is not nearly so offensive excepting that it is disgusting at many points, but since the audience will laugh there is no real cause for complaint.” That’s quite the review! Incidentally, Silverman continued to review Chaplin in this vein, but gradually mellowed and came to admit that some of his work was good.

Dirty? Disgusting?

Dirty? Disgusting?

Because I’d read the review, I kept an eye out for “dirty” and “disgusting” parts to the film. It is dirty, in the sense that a lot of people get slapped with glue or get some other kind of mess on them. But disgusting? Like I said, the wife runs around in her nightgown and she seems to have a lover who visits in the middle of the day. Oh, and Chaplin sits on a bed with Edna while telling her of his tough life. I guess that could be disgusting? I don’t know, I’m trying to understand the mores of the time, but I’m not sure I quite get why the Censor Board had let something unusual pass here, compared to the racy melodramas of Cecil B. DeMille, for example.

Work3

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Charles Inslee, Billy Armstrong, Marta Golden, Leo White

Run Time: 29 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music)

By the Sea (1915)

By_the_Sea_(1915_film)_posterWith 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.

A blustery day.

A blustery day.

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.

Edna's not having it.

Edna’s not having it.

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

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).

In the Park (1915)

In_the_Park_(poster)This Charlie Chaplin film returns to the three critical Keystone elements of “a girl, a park, and a policeman.” In fact, it seems so much like a deliberate send-up of Chaplin’s work at Keystone studios that I wonder whether someone at Essanay asked him to make a movie “like” the ones that had launched his popularity. Charlie wanders around a park, running into various people and getting into fights or stealing from them, but the most important are Edna Purviance and Bud Jamison, a couple out in the park because Edna the nursemaid has brought her infant charges out for some sun. Charlie manages to flirt with Edna, then, after stealing a purse from a fellow vagrant thief, sells it to Bud, only to take it back and give it to Edna as a gift. At various points, we get the classic three-frame editing in which characters in frame one throw bricks at someone in frame two, who ducks and allows the brick to sail into frame three and hit someone. The policeman eventually locates the purse’s original owner but Charlie first diverts blame to Jamison, then boots both of them into the lake.

In_the_Park_(1915)Because this movie so closely resembles its Keystone models, there’s not a lot of chance to Charlie to develop his character here. Still, his “Little Tramp” comes across as somewhat more sympathetic simply due to the less frenetic pace of the film. As he steals the purse from an unconscious Jamison at one point, he makes a kind of shrugging movement with his body that seems to say “I know it’s wrong, but what can I do?” This kind of defines the direction he’s taking the character this year. He seems to genuinely enjoy his exchanges with Edna, and also evinces a kind of shy surprise when she is responsive to his advances. Other characters get more chance to elaborate as well, particularly an “elegant masher” played by Leo White, who is romancing the original owner of the purse, and vows to commit suicide when she loses interest in him after the theft. The “suicide” may have helped inspire Harold Lloyd when he made “Haunted Spooks” (see Harold’s idea of funny suicide in this gif at Movies Silently).

In_The_Park_(Charlie_Chaplin)Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Bud Jamison, Leo White, Billy Armstrong, Ernest van Pelt.

Run Time: 15 Min

You can watch it for free: here.