Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Bud Jamison

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)

Luke’s Movie Muddle (1916)

While this isn’t the first Harold Lloyd movie reviewed on this blog, it is the earliest I’ve seen with him in a starring comedic role. This comes from his time working for Hal Roach for the American Pathé Exchange. It does not disappoint, despite an obviously lower budget than Charlie Chaplin had at the time for his work.

Lukes Movie MuddleLloyd is still (sort of) impersonating Charlie here as the owner of a small movie theater – although his mustache is somewhat the inverse of Charlie’s and his pants are tight rather than baggy, he hasn’t developed the bespectacled, straw-hat-wearing look we associate with his 1920s pictures either. At times, he seems to try to walk like Charlie, but at others, his natural physicality takes over and we see his persona come through. Harold tries to run the movie theater more or less alone, he sells and tears the tickets, and he seats each patron individually, more or less by brute force. This would be a bit much, but he makes it even harder on himself by taking time to chat up all of the female customers. At least he doesn’t try to run the projector. He leaves this up to Snub Pollard, who seems to serve the purpose of Ben Turpin in an Chaplin Essanay film (or his own role in “By the Sea“). Snub unreels a large amount of film and makes a mess (and a fire hazard) of the projection booth. Once he gets it going, he falls asleep while cranking, requiring Harold to run up and boot him in the pants, which only makes him crank much too fast. The climax comes when a country yokel, straight out of an Edison comedy, puts his pipe in his pocket and catches fire, resulting in everyone panicking and running out of the theater. Snub leaps out of the projection booth on top of Harold.

Lukes Movie Muddle1What really struck me in this movie is how nice the small 10-cent theater looks compared to the movie theaters in Chaplin films of just two years earlier, to say nothing of “Those Awful Hats” (1909). The space is large and the screen is set above the heads of the patrons so they don’t block one another’s view, despite the lack of a sloping floor or theater seating. I also appreciated the attention given to the piano player – a vital element in every theater by 1916. The movie uses close-ups and sophisticated editing, but most of the humor comes directly from slapstick and Harold’s physical timing.

Director: Hal Roach

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Harold Lloyd, Snub Pollard, Bud Jamison, Bebe Daniels

Run Time: 9 Min, 45 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

A Night in the Show (1915)

Night_in_the_Show_(poster)For my final review of 2015, I’m looking at a wonderful New Year’s party-style picture with a drunk Charlie Chaplin in two highly disruptive roles. He goes out for a night’s entertainment, and winds up being more entertaining than anything on the stage.

Night_in_the_Show_(1915)

Except for maybe this guy

Charlie drops his “Little Tramp” outfit to appear as a more refined, but evidently inebriated fellow in a tuxedo, called “Mr. Pest” in the intertitles. Mr. Pest has a hard time distinguishing statues from people, and takes a while finding his seat, meanwhile pushing past large numbers of already-seated people. He lights his cigarette on the trombone player’s head and tosses the match into the trombone. He sits on several hats and drives people like Leo White out of the theater. Meanwhile, up in the balcony (the cheap seats), Mr. Rowdy, who looks like Chaplin in a Ben Turpin mustache, is drinking from a bottle, when he’s not spilling its contents all over the wealthier patrons sitting below. Mr. Pest finally winds up in a front box, along with a fat kid who has brought several pies to snack on. His proximity to the actors on stage gives him the opportunity to interact with them. At one point, the snake charmer allows several snakes to escape into the orchestra. At another, Mr. Rowdy uses first a barrage of rotten fruit and finally a fire hose to drive off a pair of bad singers (one of them is Bud Jamison). The hose goes everywhere and the whole audience gets drenched as well. The final shot is a close-up of Mr. Pest being showered from above by Mr. Rowdy.

Night in the ShowIt’s hard to give a description that really gets across the madcap hilarity and chaos of this picture. Chaplin’s two characters are complete madmen, but they are tolerated and finally appreciated by an audience driven to distraction by the terrible performances that are trotted out. Chaplin brought his full range of physical agility to bear for this; even as he appears to be stumbling drunk each movement is precisely timed and aimed to achieve maximum effect. His ability to switch between the two roles adds a degree of visual diversity to the movie, where with a single protagonist it might have dragged at points. The use of close-ups and editing is now established and honed.

Night in the Show3The whole movie is apparently derived from a vaudeville routine called “Mumming Birds,” which Chaplin performed for the Fred Karno Company before he began work in the movies. He had to re-write it, however, to change it enough to avoid being sued by Karno, so it can still be seen as a Chaplin original script, which built on the framework of the older routine. Parts of it were reused by Robert Downey, Jr. in the biopic “Chaplin,” which gives this piece a “familiar” feeling to someone of my generation, at least. It seems to me the most sophisticated of the many “funny drunk” movies Chaplin had done at this point, and apparently audiences agreed. Judging by the ads in film magazines from the end of 1915, this movie was held over and reissued many times, perhaps almost as many as “Burlesque on Carmen,” which Essanay released only after Chaplin had broken his contract and quit.

Night in the Show1Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Leo White, Bud Jamison, Edna Purviance, Wesley Ruggles, Charles Inslee, John Rand

Run Time: 25 Min

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

Night in the Show2

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).

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).

A Jitney Elopement (1915)

Jitney_Elopement_(poster)Released only days before “The Tramp,” this Essanay comedy starring Charlie Chaplin seems to show him starting to get his bearings after a few middling efforts at the new studio. While it may not – quite – be classic on the same level as the better-known release, it definitely shows both his developing directorial talents and his natural comedic ability.

Jitney Elopement2Frequent co-star Edna Purviance is in a quandary. Her father is determined to marry her to an impoverished French nobleman (who appears in the Intertitles as “Count Chloride du Lime” or sometimes “de Lime”). She secretly loves Charlie, though it is unclear how the two met, and requests him to “rescue” her. He immediately goes to the front door and tells the butler to announce him as the Count! This is enough to get him a free drink and an opportunity to swipe cigars, and then the father invites him to dine with him and his daughter. At this point things start going wrong. Charlie clearly lacks the social graces, accidentally puts a sugar cube in his soup, eats beans off the edge of his knife, and has a very difficult time cutting his meat. As coffee is served, the “real” Count (who looks every bit the imposter as well) turns up, and the father angrily turns Charlie out. The Count takes Edna out to the park to try to woo her despite her obvious lack of enthusiasm, and Charlie finds them there. A slapstick running battle now breaks out, involving Charlie, the Count, Edna’s father, and two dopey policemen who jump out of the bushes at a comic moment. Having emerged more or less victorious, Charlie takes Edna down to the road and makes off with her and the Count’s car (the “Jitney” of the title). The father and Count pursue in another vehicle, and another madcap chase begins. It ends with one car going into the Bay, and the lovers kissing discreetly in the land-bound survivor.

Jitney ElopementThis movie was shot in San Francisco, and the park used is recognizably Golden Gate. During the car chase, anyone who has been to the beach at Golden Gate will recognize the windmills seen in the background of the car chase. What’s more fascinating is the dirt roads, apparently in that same vicinity, and the paucity of buildings alongside them. This is less than ten years after the 1906 Earthquake, of course, but I don’t think the under-developed look is due to lack of reconstruction. It appears that the area was still sparsely populated at this time. The Jitney is today mostly associated with early motorized taxicab operations, but this one appears to belong to the Count as a personal-use vehicle. Much of the humor of the chase comes from Charlie’s needing to get out and crank it up every now and again.

Jitney Elopement1Technically, the movie again confirms the development of Chaplin’s standards after he left Keystone studios. The camera is frequently placed much closer, so that the audience can plainly see Charlie’s and the other actor’s faces, not necessarily their full bodies. In fact, the camera is closer throughout much of this movie than in “The Birth of a Nation” or other 1915 movies praised for their innovations. The editing is also particularly good, and keeps the high speed chase working well. Cutaways sometimes make use of reaction shots, as when the two cops attempt to stop the Jitney by holding a rope across its path and are dragged behind it. We see most of this through Charlie’s reactions, only catching the beginning and end of the action. The scene of the dinner reminds me of gags Charlie would use later, for example in “The Gold Rush” (there are no dancing bread rolls, however). Edna isn’t quite up to Mabel Normand’s level as a leading lady, for me, though. She mostly looks on as Charlie and her father fight, and only seems to follow Charlie’s lead rather than taking action for herself.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Ernest Van Pelt, Leo White, Lloyd Bacon, Bud Jamison

Run Time: 26 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.

The Champion (1915)

Champion_1915Movies and boxing have gone together since the birth of American cinema. Boxing also lends itself to precisely the kind of physical comedy associated with slapstick, so it’s no surprise that Charlie Chaplin returned to the theme more than once in his career. The first time was in “The Knockout,” which is really a Fatty Arbuckle film that Charlie appeared in as a supporting character, but because of his higher name value, it tends to be associated with Charlie instead (See Silentology for another discussion of “The Knockout”). Less than a year later, and at another studio, Charlie made his first appearance as a headliner in a boxing comedy.

Champion1Slightly longer, “The Champion” has a somewhat simpler plot than “The Knockout.” We open on Charlie with a pet bulldog, apparently down on his heels, but sharing a hot dog with his companion. A bit later, Charlie finds a “good luck” horseshoe just as he passes Spike Dugan’s (Ernest van Pelt) training quarters, which is advertising for a boxing partner “who can take a punch.” After watching others lose, Charlie puts the horseshoe in his glove and wins. The trainer prepares Charlie to fight the world champion, Bob Uppercut, played by Bud Jamison, who still seems to me to be filling Mack Swain’s shoes. A gambler (Leo White) wants Charlie to throw the fight, but Charlie knocks him out and takes his money anyway. He and the trainer’s daughter (Edna Purviance, once again, who seems to be dressing as a boy to sneak into the fights as Minta Durfee did in “The Knockout”) meet and fall in love. At the big fight, Ben Turpin takes on Charlie’s former role as the referee, and winds up getting hit about as often as the fighters. Broncho Billy Anderson, co-owner of Essanay Studios, is rumored to be in the fight audience, but I didn’t spot him based on the one Broncho Billy movie I’ve been able to see so far.

Champion2The opening of the movie, with Charlie and the dog, gives us a chance to identify with the “Little Tramp” more than we ever did when he was at Keystone, and, indeed, the character is cuter and more appealing, even if he is cheating at boxing and apparently robbing gamblers. The longer run time seemed to be handled better in this movie than in “A Night Out,” in part because the whole “training” storyline obviously points to a climax in the ring. Once we get there, all the stops are pulled out and ever single gag you can think of is thrown in. Each time the fighters go at it, something different happens. I was delightedly surprised, for example, when they “hugged” each other and danced, rather than hitting. Still, where “The Knockout” confuses people with so many things going in rapid-fire, “The Champion” at times seems drawn-out, with the gags getting in the way of forward motion of the plot.

Champion5

Shall we dance?

In terms of film making, this movie is still at a fairly simple level. Scenes are generally taken from a straight-on camera angle with little internal cutting. Occasionally, close-ups are used to emphasize Charlie’s emotional state. Cross-cutting, between the audience and the boxing ring, helps to liven up the fight sequence. All of the actors, except Edna, get a chance to show off their athleticism, and the dog puts in a good performance as well, attacking Jamison and biting the seat of his pants at a critical moment. During the “love scenes,” Charlie holds a large jug of beer up to insure Edna and him some privacy.

ChampionDirector: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Bud Jamison, Ben Turpin, Leo White, Ernest van Pelt, Broncho Billy Anderson, Lloyd Bacon

Run Time: 33 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

A Night Out (1915)

Night OutThis is one of the early films Charlie Chaplin made at Essanay Studios during his year there after he left Keystone. It has many of the familiar elements from Keystone – men with silly facial hair, women who seem to enjoy flirting with transients, a dull-witted policeman, a large jealous husband, hotels and bar rooms, and a world populated with people with a propensity for solving problems with physical violence – but has more measured timing and use of the individual gags, plus a much longer run time than most of the shorts he did there.

Night Out4To the degree that there is a plot, it concerns Charlie and his drinking buddy Ben Turpin, who apparently are out on the town for a while before the movie starts because by the time it does they are both staggering drunk. They make their way to a restaurant, where they get into fights with various patrons and ultimately are thrown out by the large headwaiter (played by Bud Jamison, who is doing his best to be Mack Swain). The two pals decide to get a room and sleep it off, and, after multiple pratfalls, Ben Turpin winds up in his bed, and Charlie winds up in a room with Edna Purviance (this was her first appearance in a Chaplin film, but they would work and sleep together for the next eight years). Then her husband comes home, and, of course, it’s Bud Jamison! So, Charlie packs up his pajamas and goes to another hotel, but he’s too drunk to sign the register and winds up on a park bench. Turpin wakes up alone and the desk clerk insists he pay since Charlie already left. He finds Charlie on the park bench, who replies to his request for rent money with several blows to the head with a brick. Meanwhile, some issue has come up at the original hotel with the headwaiter that involves holes being cut in his handkerchiefs, so they move to the second hotel. Now, Charlie heads back there and goes through an elaborate getting-ready-for-bed ritual that involves throwing his trousers out the window and spreading toothpaste on his slippers. Meanwhile, Edna has been playing with a dog in her room (across from Charlie’s, of course) and the dog runs under Charlie’s bed, where she follows it. Charlie comes out and discovers a girl under his bed, to some apparent glee, until she says something about her husband coming back and he looks out the door and sees Jamison again. They try to sneak her back into the room, but it’s no good, Charlie is caught and chased, and winds up going out a window. Ultimately, Turpin finds him again and they fight, ending with Charlie getting drenched in a bathtub.

Night Out1I’m not sure if it was just me or if Charlie was still getting used to the longer format, but this movie felt more like three or four short movies stitched together than like a cohesive longer plot. At about six minutes in, I had laughed at least as many times as I have at any Keystone, but I was already feeling like it could wrap up and be fine. At fourteen minutes in (the length of the average one-reeler), I was really ready for it to be done. By the end, it seemed actually too long, even though the gags and the falls were entirely up to snuff. One thing Charlie did do was take the time to elaborate some of his gags, which he wouldn’t have done at the faster pace. For example there’s a sequence in the hotel room where Charlie has drunkenly confused the phone with a water dispenser, and keeps trying to pour into his cup from it. That’s the sort of little touch that rarely made it into a Keystone. On the whole, though, it isn’t up to the level of later “feature-length” work like “Burlesque on Carmen,” nor even the sustained zaniness of “The Tramp.” If you like Keystone Chaplin well enough to sit still for half an hour, then this will work for you, maybe even better than watching three Keystones would, but it still seemed to me to be a bit rough around the edges.

Night Out2Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Ben Turpin, Edna Purviance, Bud Jamison, Leo White

Run Time: 33 Min

You can watch it for free: here.