Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Charley Chase

Dough and Dynamite (1914)

For this two-reel comedy from Keystone, Charlie Chaplin threw in a whole lot of ideas and gags he’d developed partially in other movies, apparently trying for more of an opus, showing off everything he could do at once. It may have been more ambitious than successful, but it was a precursor of later things.

Charlie is a waiter at a bakery with a small café. We see him dropping food on the floor, only to pick it up and serve it, spilling things on customers, and generally being completely obnoxious. When a young female customer stands in front of a counter advertising “Assorted French Tarts,” however, Charlie snaps into action to help her, forgetting all about the trail of spoilt meals behind him. In the process of flirting ineffectually with her, he tosses the display tarts across the room, causing several customers to leave in a huff. He now heads into the kitchen, where he begins a slapstick fight with Chester Conklin and the cook, coming out very much on top, despite a clumsy beginning. Now Charlie opens the trapdoor that leads to the basement, which is where the bakers are working hard at making bread and pastries. Chester gives Charlie a kick down the ladder, causing a baker to drop several loaves of bread, and soon he is caught up in surprisingly sticky dough, which he wipes off on a hanging jacket. Now he goes over to look at the ovens, providing the first of many opportunities to burn his hand. The bakers watch his antics and laugh for a while, then suggest that he head back up to safer ground, where the new paucity of customers gives him a chance to flirt with the waitresses (Peggy Page and Cecile Arnold). Soon, he’s back in the kitchen, where he breaks several dishes in the process of making things up with Conklin.

An intertitle now introduces a new subplot, telling us that, “the bakers want less work and more pay.” Their negotiations with the owner quickly stall and they stage a walkout (causing one to discover all the dough on his jacket), and so the owner hands over their aprons to Charlie and Chester, who have now been promoted to scab bakers. One of the bakers threatens Charlie with a knife, but Charlie gets the better of him and stalks off, and the bakers all walk off the floor after getting paid out by the owner. Chester seems reluctant at first, but finally consents to go down into the basement, and then Charlie is sent down with a truly massive sack of flour on his back. After several comic mis-steps, Charlie finally drops it down the ladder onto Chester. In the basement, Charlie continues to fight with Chester, burn his hands, get stuck in dough, and drop food on the floor before putting it out to be served. Meanwhile, the strikers meet in a barn and take out a large box of dynamite, which they plan to use on the bakery. Charlie’s flirtations and incompetence continue apace, and soon he has managed to get flour onto the behinds of all of the waitresses, something the owner notes with concern. When his wife is briefly down in the basement and also innocently gets flour on herself, he goes ballistic. Meanwhile, the strikers carry out their plot and manage to infiltrate a dynamite-loaded loaf of bread into the ovens, which soon explode. The cast find themselves amidst the rubble of the ruined shop and the movie ends.

This movie apparently was conceived by Chaplin and Conklin while they were on a break from “Those Love Pangs,” having lunch at a café-bakery not unlike the one in the movie. It is certainly much more well-developed than that movie, and it’s been suggested that one of the reasons for the weakness of that movie is that they decided to move their better gags over to the new project. Whatever the case, this movie reminded me of later work that Keaton and Arbuckle would do together, such as “The Butcher Boy,” which takes advantage of a customer service setting to provide an opportunity for brief comic vignettes and a variety of characters to interact. In that sense, it’s also like “The Floorwalker” and “The Pawnshop,” by Chaplin as well, though the freneticism and randomness matches a Comique more than a Mutual. Still, this has most of the roughness of Charlie’s Keystone period, and only the glee which he and Conklin bring to their comedy fighting makes it stand out from the “park comedies” at times. Charlie does bring some of his dance-like moves to bear; I was particularly entertained by a sequence in which he prepares donuts by twisting dough around his wrists in a series of rhythmic moves.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Chester Conklin, Fritz Schade, Norma Nichols, Glen Cavender, Cecile Arnold, Peggy Page, Vivian Edwards, Phyllis Allen, Edgar Kennedy, Slim Summerville, Charley Chase, Jess Dandy, Ted Edwards

Run Time: 24 Min

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

His New Profession (1914)

His_New_Profession

For this Charlie Chaplin Keystone comedy, I was able to find two slightly different edits, but nothing so glaring as in the case of “Caught in a Cabaret,” or even “The Masquerader.” For those who’ve been keeping score, I found another theory as to who re-edited them: William K. Everson claims that Sid Chaplin (Charlie’s brother) created new versions from the originals during his time at Keystone Studios. Until I find a more authoritative source, we’ll assume that’s correct, although it’s interesting that Sid seems to have felt he had a freer hand in re-arranging Mabel Normand’s work than Charlie’s.

 His New Profession

Here, Charlie’s in full Little Tramp getup as he sits in the park, reading. For this opening shot we get a long close-up, suggesting that Keystone (or Chaplin) was beginning to realize that audiences wanted a good look at their favorite comedian. Nearby, a couple argues because they have to look after the man’s (Charley Chase) invalid uncle, who wears a cast. He promises to find a sitter so they can be alone together, she stalks off. The nephew pushes his uncle’s wheelchair right onto Charlie’s foot, which is the perfect opportunity to offer him the job of looking after uncle. Charlie accepts, with no great enthusiasm while nephew sneaks off to his girl. Soon, Charlie comes upon a bar. Nearby, there is a crippled man begging, which gives Charlie an idea. He waits until uncle and the beggar are asleep, then puts the sign and money cup in uncle’s lap. Soon, he has some spending money for the bar. The girl sees the uncle “begging” and breaks up with nephew. The barkeeper is Fatty Arbuckle, but he doesn’t really get any funny bits as Charlie cadges for drinks. This gives Charlie a chance to do his funny drunk bit and he stumbles out as the uncle and the beggar are coming to blows. Then he wheels him over to a pier and tries to bond over a picture of a pretty girl. Then the girl sits next to him and he loses interest in uncle while he tries to mash on her. He pushes uncle to the end of the pier, where he nearly falls into the water – but not quite. Soon, the nephew, two policemen, the beggar, the uncle, the girl, and Charlie are all exchanging blows over who did what to whom. The uncle winds up arrested, one cop falls into the drink, and Charlie is left with the girl, who, in the longer cut, seems none too thrilled.

 His New Profession1

I was sorry to see Arbuckle so wasted, and the other Keystone players didn’t get as many laughs out of me as usual, but this is a fine example of Chaplin’s early work as an actor and director. The final climax was a bit disappointing, too. Somehow having the wheelchair almost fall into the water twice made it seem like it had to happen eventually, though it may have been safer jut to have the cop go in. Charlie isn’t especially sympathetic here, either – he’s a bit of a cad and certainly not a reliable sitter for the disabled man. On the other hand, the nephew is to be blamed for giving the responsibility to a Tramp, I suppose.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Charley Chase, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Harry McCoy, Peggy Page

Run Time: 13 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music, shorter edit), or here (with music, longer)

 

Mabel’s Blunder (1914)

Mabels Blunder

This is the one Mabel Normand movie from 1914 I’ve seen which does not also star Charlie Chaplin. It’s not slapstick, but more of a situational comedy along the lines of “Troublesome Secretaries.” Mabel is in love with her co-worker, the son of the boss, but the boss is also sweet on her. When she thinks her beau is cheating on her, she switches clothes with her brother so she can spy on him. The boss sees her brother in her clothes, and mistakes him for her, asking her out to the same place the younger man has taken the mysterious other woman. Hilarity ensues when Mabel’s boy thinks she (as a man) is hitting on his sister, the girl who Mabel was jealous of, and when the boss’s wife catches him out with a boy dressed up as a girl. Overall, I don’t find the situational style of silent comedy holds up as well as the more physical approach, because there’s too much guessing what’s being said by whom, but this movie does invite some interesting speculations on the use of gender in comedy. As in Shakespeare’s time, the idea of men and women switching roles is an opportunity for confusion and laughter, which is resolved when everyone resumes his or her proper biological role. This sort of comedy still works today, suggesting that the gender order remains strong.

Director: Mabel Normand

Producer: Mack Sennett

Starring: Mabel Normand, Al St. John, Charles Bennett, Charley Chase

Run Time: 18 Min

You can watch it for free: here.