Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Charlie Chaplin

A Day of Silents (1916)

I always like to do a quick writeup when I attend a festival or event where Century Films are shown, and yesterday I flew to San Francisco for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’sA Day of Silents” at the Castro Theater. There were six blocks of movies on the schedule, all with live musical accompaniment, and all worth seeing in themselves. There was also a book signing and a vendors’ room, conveniently located on the mezzanine level of the Castro. Overall, the event was well-managed and professional, although maybe a bit more “serious” in tone than some of the other festivals I’ve attended.

day-of-silentsThe only true Century Films to screen yesterday were the opening block of Chaplin shorts from Essanay Studios. They showed “His New Job,” “The Champion,” and “A Night in the Show,” all of which I’ve reviewed before (follow the links). In fact, they used the recent digital restorations from Blackhawk films prepared by Flicker Alley, which is exactly the prints I watched on DVD for the reviews, so there was nothing new to me. However, as I’ve long known, silent comedy always benefits from the presence of a live audience, and this was no exception. The experience was boosted by the attendance of my ten-year-old nephew Kai, who laughed and bounced in his seat throughout.

anders_als_die_andern_1919_posterOther close-to-100-year old movies included “Anders als die Andern” (“Different from the Others”) and a collection of Pathé newsclips, some of which dated as far back as 1910. “Different” was a social-reform movie made in Germany to oppose Paragraph 175 of the legal code, which made “active” homosexuality a crime. I’ll be reviewing it in 2019. The Pathé collection (1910-1925) included images from the First World War, the Mexican Revolution, and the soon-to-begin Russian Revolution, as well as uprisings in Ireland and South Africa. Anyone who thinks of the Silent Era as some kind of “simpler time” should look at these clips and think again (they didn’t even include footage of the massive KKK March on Washington in 1925).

strike

A striking image from “Strike”

The movies from the twenties were “So This is Paris” (1926), “Strike” (1925), “The Last Command” (1928) and “Sadie Thompson” (1928). Of these, special mention should go to the Alloy Orchestra for providing an appropriately bombastic score for Sergei Eisenstein’s first feature film. I generally find Eisenstein to be heavy-handed and awkward, despite his great reputation, but with the right music, the images can become an exciting ride. This was a case, for me, of the music being better than the movie. I should also mention Donald Sosin, who gave us piano scores for most of the other movies that fit the pictures nicely.

Generally, the SFSFF manages to happen at a time when I’m too busy with grading to travel, but this one-day jaunt to San Francisco was a pleasant diversion at the end of an academic term. I hope there will be more like this in the future.

July 1916

This is a particularly “bloody” entry in the Century News series, with the outbreak of one of the worst battles of World War One, two terrorist attacks on the United States (one domestic, one foreign), as well as shark attacks and forest fires all hitting the headlines at once. It’s a reminder that the news we see today is no worse than what our ancestors endured, but it’s also a sad reminder of how much damage hatred and intolerance has caused in every era. The movies provide a small escape for us, with the release of a comedy classic and the birth of a legend.

British Tank at the Somme, Sept 1916

British Tank at the Somme, Sept 1916

World War One

The Battle of the Somme begins with the “Battle of Albert” on July 1, in what will be the British Army’s bloodiest day with more than 19,000 killed. On July 15 another sub-battle, the “Battle of Delville Wood” claims 766 South African troops – the highest number lost by South Africa in a single engagement. The “Battle of Fromelles,” July 19-20, is another operation in which British-allied forces suffer disproportionate losses. The Somme will drag on until November, claiming over a million lives.

The Battle of Erzincan begins on July 2, with Russian forces overwhelming the Ottomans and inflicting 34,000 casualties by July 25.

Terrorism: The Preparedness Day Bombing in San Francisco on July 22 kills 10 and injures 40 at a parade organized to “prepare” Americans for intervention in World War I. Two labor leaders, Tom Mooney and Warren K. Billings are arrested, tried, and convicted, but later pardoned on the basis of false testimony against them. The true culprit remains unknown.

Sabotage: German agents blow up the Black Tom munitions depot in Jersey City, near to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on July 30, killing 7 people.

Jersey Shore Shark Attack NewsAnimal Attacks: The Jersey Shore Shark Attacks take place from July 1 to 12, resulting in four deaths and one disabling. These attacks will later inspire the book and movie “Jaws.”

Natural Disasters: A forest fire in Ontario, Canada caused by a lightning strike on July 29 kills 233 people.

Industry: Founding of Boeing July 15 as “Pacific Aero Products” in Seattle, Washington.

Food: Mass public-dining program initiated during July in major German cities to combat the effects of the Allied blockade.

Science: Publication of Einstein’s “Die Grundlage der allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie, first explication of the general theory of relativity, in Annalen der Physik.

Vagabond_(1916)Film: Release of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Vagabond,” July 10.

Births: Olivia de Haviland (actress, “Gone with the Wind” and “The Snake Pit”), July 1; and Keenan Wynn (actor, “Dr. Strangelove” and “Laserblast”), July 27.

May 1916

As the First World War in Europe has progressed, I’ve kept apace of the battlefield and diplomatic news via these monthly Century News updates. This month, I’d like to turn a bit toward a focus on the home front and how populations were responding to the ongoing hardships of the War. In Germany, the Allied Blockade had long meant that vital supplies were cut off. In October of 1915, a series of “butter riots” exploded in Berlin and other major cities, as poor citizens became convinced that farmers were hoarding and over-pricing their wares. By May of 1916, food demonstrations were common events.

Karl_Liebknecht_001

Karl Liebknecht

Politics: On May 1, International Workers Day, Karl Liebknecht, the only German Socialist Member of Parliament to have voted against extending War Bonds in December, 1914, gives a memorable speech at a large anti-war demonstration. Liebknecht is subsequently arrested and jailed.

Protests: Australian newspapers report on May 15th about a supposed food riot of over 1000 people, mostly women, in Berlin. While this number sounds inflated, it is notable that there had been riots of this size in the previous year and it is possible that the May Day protests have been conflated with a food riot.

Government: The German Bundesrat creates the Kriegsernährungsamt (KEA) or War Food Office on May 22nd to control food distribution and pricing. Responding to demands from urban citizens to guarantee adequate food supplies reach the cities, this office will be reorganized as “a food dictatorship” by General Paul von Hindenburg and represents the increasing centralization of the country under his joint control with General Erich Ludendorff.

By Bone, Muirhead (artist), The War Office  from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain

By Bone, Muirhead (artist), The War Office. From the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain

Propaganda: Sir Muirhead Bone is recruited in May to become the first official British War Artist. He will be sent to France in time to cover the Battle of the Somme in 150 drawings.

Interventions: The United States invades the Dominican Republic on May 16. This follows efforts to protect the US embassy and legation after a coup by former Secretary of War Desiderio Arias and escalation of the situation by Rear Admiral William B. Caperton, Commander of Naval Forces in the Caribbean.

Diplomacy: On May 16, Britain and France secretly conclude the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which proposed division of the Ottoman Empire into smaller nation-states in the Middle East and is seen as the source of much conflict there to this day.

Warfare: The Battle of Jutland, the only major naval battle of World War I, begins on May 31 when the German Navy attempts a raid intending to draw out a portion of the British North Seas fleet and destroy it. Unfortunately for them, the British have decoded the plan and respond by sending a large-scale force to destroy the German High Seas Fleet.

Floorwalker_(poster)Films: Release of “The Floorwalker” on May 15, Charlie Chaplin’s first film since leaving Essanay for Mutual and his first new movie of the year.

Births: Glenn Ford (actor, in “Gilda” and “The Big Heat”), born May 1; Adriana Caselotti (singer, voice of Snow White in Disney’s “Snow White”), born May 16.

The Broncho Billy Marathon

Blogathon Marathon StarsFor this “Marathon Star Blogathon” post, I’m going to binge-watch several of Gilbert “Broncho Billy” Anderson’s movies, and write about him as I go. Don’t worry, each film will get it’s own individual review in the weeks to come; in accordance with the rules of this blogathon tonight I’ll be focusing on Anderson himself and what I learn by looking at so much of him at once. Incidentally, a year or so back I watched another one: “Broncho Billy and the Schoolmistress,” and I have also watched “His Regeneration” before, in connection with my many reviews of Charlie Chaplin.

OK, here we go…

Making of Broncho BillyFirst up, “The Making of Broncho Billy” (1913). The DVD I bought has a nice brief introduction to the star, reminding us that he was born “Max Aronson,” a Jewish man from Arkansas, and that he finagled a job as “Max Anderson” on “The Great Train Robbery” working for Edwin S. Porter. Supposedly, his horse threw him and he never was in any of the chase scenes, since he couldn’t ride. After founding Essanay, his own production company, with George K. Spoor, he went on to make over 350 films, mostly Westerns. Anyway, this film is a kind of “origin story” for Broncho Billy, although of course there had been many movies made before it. Anderson shows up in a Western town wearing Eastern clothes (he looks sort of like a young D.W. Griffith) and is mercilessly mocked by the local cowhands. When he tries to fight one in a bar, he learns that he must learn to shoot to gain their respect. We see him attempt shooting a bottle in his Eastern garb, but he can’t hit the side of a barn until he puts on a Stetson hat and cowboy shirt. After he confronts one of the bullies, he rides to the sheriff for protection as an angry mob comes after him, but the surviving bully just wants to shake his hand. Anderson is good in this, changing his body language and his acting style as he goes from the victim to the tough guy. Read the rest of this entry »

Charlie and the Indians (1915)

This animated cartoon was included in the same DVD collection that gave me “Charlie on the Windmill,” so the same caveats apply, except that in this case I’m not certain that the title wasn’t invented for the DVD release, which only makes it harder to research. We do get an almost-complete story this time, unfortunately with typically dehumanized cartoon Native Americans as the foes.

Charlie and the IndiansHere, the animated version of the “Little Tramp” rides into a Western town on the back of a horse. he stops in at the bar and orders a drink, but the liquid bounces from his glass into that of a grizzled fellow-patron. This fellow warns him that the locals don’t like strangers and points a gun at his feet. Charlie runs for it, leaping on his horse and riding from town. At the edge of town, he hears a mother weeping and stops to ask what is wrong. She tells him her beautiful daughter has been stolen by Indians, and Charlie offers to save her. He scouts the Indian village from a distance and loads his gun with some odd large substance. When he fires, a large square thing comes out and knocks three Indians over the cliff at once (no, I don’t get this either). Then, he is suddenly being pursued by a bear (this is where I think there’s missing footage) and climbs a tree to escape. The bear bites through the tree, felling it, but it lands bridge-like, spanning the chasm between two cliffs. Charlie faces the bear in the middle, using his cane and some fancy footwork to get to the other side. Now the bear chases him into a couple of tree trunks: the first is full of skunks, and the second turns into an unseen battle ground. The bear emerges, seemingly unhurt, but moves oddly, then takes off its head and reveals Charlie inside its skin. The Charlie-bear approaches a tree with a beehive and an Indian brave sees him and shoots the beehive, causing the bees to attack Charlie. Then he shoots an arrow into Charlie-bear’s butt. Charlie pulls it out and throws it back, hitting the Indian’s butt. Now another (female?) bear sees Charlie and pursues him. He hides in a cave and there is another unseen battle. Charlie runs out, back in his usual getup, and the bear looks out of the cave, holding the other bear’s boneless head like a mask. Charlie leaps on his horse and goes to the hills above the village, using his rope to lasso the bound and gagged woman in front of the fire. He then races back to the mother, who offers him his daughter’s hand in marriage. She removes the gag and reveals a silly-looking face, and Charlie spurs his horse and rides off into the distance.

Charlie and the Indians1With this much material to work from, it’s easy to see parallels, both with the later Felix the Cat cartoons that this team would create, and with the work of Winsor McCay, who influenced them both as well. The backgrounds tend to be undetailed, and white space fills much of the screen. I noticed less of Chaplin’s physical style in this than in “Windmill,” and a lot more of the imaginative whimsy of Felix cartoons. Although I didn’t understand how Charlie used his gun, it reminded me a lot of Felix’s magic bag. Inanimate objects will do impossible things, and animals seem to be at least as smart as the people. Unfortunate (but unsurprising) was the depiction of the Native American kidnappers. All of them seem to be identical mohawked warriors, and they show little personality (except for the mischievous one that aggravates the bees) or motivation.

Director: Otto Messmer, Pat Sullivan

Run Time: 10 Min

I have not found this available on the Internet for free. If you do, please comment below.

Best Makeup/Hairstyling 1915

Hello everyone and welcome to the Century Awards! As with last year, my plan is to post one award per hour, building up to the Best Picture of 1915 late tonight. So, get ready, here we go!

Actors and actresses always want to look their best under the camera’s unforgiving eye. In some cases, they even may want to take on an appearance not their own, to put on a mask that convinces the audience they are a different age, color, race, or even sex, than the really are. That’s where the magic of makeup and hairstyling comes into play. While we often don’t have records of the names of these artists from this period, we can still honor their legacy by choosing the best of the best.

This year’s nominees include everything from crime serials to comedies to dramatic narratives. In “The Deadly Ring,” a chapter of “Les Vampires,” the art of deception is used by several characters to appear as others, and we also see Stacia Napierkowska transform into a bat. In “A Woman,” the clowning Charlie Chaplin assumes the fairer sex in a clever deception to get closer to the girl of his dreams. “A Fool There Was” features some of the most famous appearances of the alluring Vamp, Theda Bara. In “Trilby,” the handsome Wilton Lackaye reproduces his stage role and becomes the diabolical Svengali. Finally, Charlie Chaplin again deceives an audience into thinking he’s two separate men in “A Night in the Show,” which also features the outrageous makeup of several of his Essanay comedy comrades.

The nominees for Best Makeup/Hairstyling for 1915 are…

  1. The Deadly Ring
  2. A Woman
  3. A Fool There Was
  4. Trilby
  5. A Night in the Show

And the winner is…”A Night in the Show!”

Night_in_the_Show_(poster)This year, I felt that Charlie Chaplin more or less had to take it. Throughout his movies, he’s demonstrated an understanding of how makeup transforms actors and enhances their performance. In “A Night in the Show” he manages to be two very different characters, surrounded by a crew of other bizarre folks, largely due to makeup and hair.

Charlie on the Windmill (1915)

This early cartoon, apparently by the team that created Felix the Cat, shows Charlie Chaplin as the established international figure he is now known as. But is it really from 1915? The evidence is unclear.

Charlie on the WindmillThis is just a fragment of less than two minutes of film. What we see, mostly, is a very large windmill going around and around with a tiny figure clinging to one of the sails. When it stops, with him at the top, a fat man on the ground blows a big wind and makes it turn around a couple more times. Then it stops again, and we get a close enough shot to see the cartoon version of Charlie’s “Little Tramp.” He gives his signature shrug, and several other familiar body movements, while the fat man, now joined by a woman, throws bricks at him! All of them miss, but when the man throws a bicycle, it knocks Charlie off. That’s all we have. Read the rest of this entry »

Nervy Nat Kisses the Bride (1904)

Kiss BlogathonSeveral of the important elements of early cinema come together to make up this short Edison Studios comedy directed by Edwin S. Porter. While much of the film is built on established formulas of the previous ten years, we also get a glimpse of some of the coming direction of American cinema, especially in the realm of slapstick.

The Kiss.

The Kiss.

The movie essentially consists of three scenes, each in a separate location, and each shown in long shot by a stationary camera. The first scene takes place in a train station, signaled by the closed “ticket” window on the left side of the stage. There is a man in “bumpkin” clothes asleep on a bench as the scene opens. Soon, another figure enters through the door beside the bench. This is “Nervy Nat,” and he is dressed in rather frayed and worn-looking evening clothes, with a top hat, and moves in broad gestures that suggest possible inebriation. He goes to the water cooler and pours a glass, confirming our suspicions when he spits it out, disappointed that it is unadulterated by liquor. Then, he notices our bumpkin character, and stealthily checks his coat pocket, pulling out a train ticket and absconding with it. The next scene is aboard a train car, and two newlyweds are the only ones in the car at first. They are kissing, but the conductor comes in to warn them that another passenger will be joining them, and they assume a more demure posture. The new passenger is Nervy Nat, who takes the seat behind them. The husband pulls out a cigar, and invites his wife to join him for a smoke, but she isn’t interested, and they quarrel, the husband finally leaving when his wife turns to look away from him pointedly. Nervy Nat takes the opportunity to sit next to the woman, and tries to take her in his arms. She, still looking out the window, resists, presumably thinking that her husband is attempting an awkward apology. Then she turns and looks, and starts screaming, bringing the husband and two conductors back into the car, and they grab Nat and drag him out the door. The final scene is an exterior of train tracks, with a train rushing by. When the last car passes, we see two men hurl another off the back of the moving train. Nervy Nat gets up, dusts himself off and shakes his fist at the train before walking off.

Nervy Nat Kisses the BrideThe movies, especially American movies, were still figuring themselves out at this time. While there had been artistic and commercial breakthroughs, like Porter’s own “The Great Train Robbery” from the year before, most of the movies seen in American theaters at this time were coming from Europe, mostly France. There was huge demand for new films, but American studios simply didn’t have the capacity to make enough pictures. This was only aggravated by the fact that the Edison company claimed to have the only legitimate patent for motion picture equipment in the USA, and was suing its competition left and right, even taking theater owners to court if they showed non-Edison content. The American film industry was in a fairly sorry state in 1904, but was beginning to function despite itself, due to the enormous audience interest in simple, entertaining stories.

Porter successfully transported several pieces from “The Great Train Robbery” to this movie, made about nine months later. The locations – a ticket station, a train, and the train tracks – are similar in both films. The editing sequence is much simpler for this shorter movie, but still applies the same basic linear conventions we see in “Train Robbery.” Also the aspect of the train itself as a place where “outside” elements can invade and interrupt staid middle class lives is in common between the two. There is also a common special effect: the use of a jump cut and a dummy to simulate a body being thrown off a train. In the “Robbery” we see two men fighting on the back of the train, when one wins, the cut happens and he throws a dummy off. Here the sequence is reversed: we see the men throw the dummy off the train, there is an edit, and then Nervy Nat gets up where the dummy would have been. This combination of dummies and trick photography goes back at least as far as “The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots,” an American movie, and such camera trickery would be perfected by Georges Méliès of France in the intervening years. I think Méliès would have done it a bit more smoothly by 1904, but I admit I had to re-run it to make sure I caught where the edit happened.

Nervy Nat Kisses the Bride2The character of Nervy Nat, while not very fleshed-out in the run time of this movie, seems to herald future developments in American comedy. I was particularly reminded of Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character, both by the behavior and the outfit of Nat. He is dressed up, but at the same time, obviously down and out. He drinks, he steals, he covets, and he has problems understanding social boundaries. In the end, his behavior brings worse trouble on his head. None of this is to say that Chaplin necessarily “stole” his idea from this movie (or even saw it), but it indicates the way that the “Little Tramp” was a part of an established comedic tradition; Chaplin had been doing “funny drunks” on stage for years, and he knew how best to make them funny. Nervy Nat can be seen as a slightly less effective attempt at doing the same thing. Perhaps not surprisingly for slapstick, the part that made me laugh was his ejection from the train.

Nervy Nat Kisses the Bride1In light of the theme of this Blogathon, I should speak a little bit about the romantic side of this comedy. Of course, it is not meant to be a tragic story of love lost; from that point of view, Nervy Nat is simply too unsympathetic and the woman too obviously uninterested in his advances. Nat reminds us, however, as the “Little Tramp” would time and again in future movies, that even the most alienated and unsocialized of characters still want to be loved. Nat does not find his valentine at the end of this movie but the audience can leave with a sense of having learned from his mistakes and acknowledge the universal human need for affection.

This has been my contribution to the “You Must Remember This…A Kiss is Just a Kiss Blogathon.” Don’t forget to check out the other entries!

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Unknown

Run Time: 2 Min

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

The Rink (1916)

Rink5In one of his funniest movies of 1916, Charlie Chaplin again draws on old themes to provide a jumping-off point to demonstrate his developing talents. He also brings his audience into two worlds of his character, providing depth even without the level of sympathy seen in “The Vagabond” or “The Bank.”

RinkThe movie opens with an indescribably cute sequence of a kitten playing on a sleeping man, waking him up by swatting at a toy on a string, which is held by Edna Purviance (more evidence that funny cat videos predate the Internet). The man is her father, but we don’t learn anything else about their relationship because the scene shifts to a restaurant, where Charlie is dressed up and working as a waiter. Eric Campbell, as a customer, asks for the check and Charlie determines what he has eaten by looking at the food he spilled on himself (every item costs $1, which seems like a lot for the time). He pays, Charlie counts out his change and then takes it all as his tip. Eric gives chase, but Charlie hides behind other customers. Charlie has several funny run-ins with fellow waiter John Rand, largely because he refuses to abide by the doors marked “In” and “Out” to the kitchen. Rand winds up serving a customer a dish with a rag and floor scrubber on it, due to one of these mishaps. Charlie also gets food on him and on the cook (played by Albert Austin). There is one great bit where the manager (Frank J Coleman) tries to catch Charlie in the act, but due to his creative use of the In/Out doors and some fancy editing, he consistently misses him.

Rink_(poster)After all this goes on for a while, Charlie opens up a stove and pulls out his “Little Tramp” outfit. He changes from the well-fitting waiter’s uniform into his usual tight vest and bowler. Then he goes to lunch (the manager warns him to come back on time). Now he goes to a skating rink, where he bypasses the admission fee and flirts with a girl on a bench. He gets some skates and goes onto the floor, where Eric Armstrong is now trying to flirt with Edna, despite his lack of skill at skating. It turns out that Charlie is very good at skating and skates circles around Eric, impressing Edna. He also causes mayhem at the rink, causing fights and tripping people, but always looking innocent when the bouncer-type fellow arrives. Eric winds up falling down several times and Edna invites Charlie to her “skating party” later that evening.

Rink1We now learn that Eric Armstrong is married to a large woman played by a man (Harry Bergman). They apparently both like to flirt with others, but don’t tell each other about this. She has gotten invited to the party by flirting with Edna’s father, and Eric crashes to flirt with Edna. They are both horrified when they see one another, and even more so when Charlie shows up! He, once again, uses his skating prowess to cause chaos, running into people and knocking over Mrs. Stout and falling on top of her repeatedly. Eventually, the situation becomes so crazy that the police are called, but Charlie continues to escape them by skating skillfully around them. Finally, he is chased by the police and most of the guests out into the street, and escapes by hooking his cane into a passing car and being pulled along on his skates.

Rink2Skating had been a popular topic for comedies since very early in moving picture history. In fact the first picture made by Charlie’s former employer  Essanay Studios was “An Awful Skate” (1907) starring Ben Turpin, and I understand that this movie was based upon a French predecessor. Putting people on wheels makes them move faster and unpredictably, so it makes sense, and of course there are always opportunities for crashing and falling down, the essences of physical comedy. This is the first time Charlie has used the concept, and he shows off his control at all times, even when he pretends to be trying catch himself or falling.

Rink3I’ve talked about a lot of aspects of Charlie’s work up to now, and I’d like to focus a bit on class this time. It is well-known that Charlie grew up in poverty in the class-conscious society of Victorian England. He made the movies he made largely for the working classes, who he knew needed entertainment, not “reform” or preaching at. There’s an interesting aspect in this film, and in a number of others that he made, which I haven’t seen discussed before. Here, he starts out as a waiter, in a working world where he obviously is not in charge, but the narrative also follows him into his private life. We also saw this in “Caught in a Cabaret” and with Bud Jamison’s character in “A Night Out,” who is also a waiter that Charlie later encounters in his personal world at a hotel. I think there’s something subtly subversive in this. Usually, a character with a menial job in a movie is just that: a menial. They don’t break out of that role or become human, they are just there to serve a purpose. Charlie reminds us that these people (his people) have real lives outside of their work roles. Sometimes, they imitate people of higher classes, as Charlie does in “Caught in a Cabaret” or here, where the Intertitles tell us he is announced at the party as “Sir Cecil Seltzer.” I won’t say that he was the only slapstick actor who ever did this, but I haven’t run across it being done by others yet, so I’m willing to call it one of his themes, probably one of the reasons he was so popular with working class audiences.

Rink4With this movie, I’m caught up on all of Chaplin’s work in 1915 and 1916, at some point hopefully later this year I can finish off my reviews of his 1914 year at Keystone Studios.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Roland Totheroh

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Armstrong, Albert Austin, Henry Bergman, John Rand, Frank J. Coleman, Lloyd Bacon

Run Time: 24 Min

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

The Pawnshop (1916)

PawnshopA fun piece that Charlie Chaplin made for Mutual late in 1916, this one puts an emphasis on running gags and longer vignettes, with the central plot taking a backseat. It has similarities to a number of earlier Chaplins, including “Work,” “The Bank,” and “The Floorwalker.”

Pawnshop_Lobby_Card,_1916Charlie is an assistant in a pawnshop, run by an older man in wearing a skullcap (kippah, yarmulke, or taqiyah). He is sent to do some dusting and winds up making a bigger mess and getting into a fight with his co-worker (John Rand). He goes outside with a large ladder to clean the sign over the shop, and winds up hurting Rand several more times, and running afoul of a local cop. Once he and Rand have avoided the cop, they begin fighting again, to the dismay of Edna Purviance, the shopkeeper’s daughter. Charlie pretends to be hurt and gets her sympathy, but the shopkeeper wants him fired. He has a change of heart and lets him stay. Several customers come in, in succession. First, an old man (Wesley Ruggles) tells a tale of woe and hardship and how he must pawn his dead wife’s wedding ring. Charlie feels sorry for him and offers five dollars, but only has a ten. The man pulls out a huge wad of bills to make change. Another customer is a thief (Eric Campbell), who persuades the shopkeeper to show him all of the fancy jewelry he keeps in the safe. Then, a man (Albert Austin) shows Charlie an alarm clock he wants to pawn. Charlie can’t get it to work, so he dismantles it piece by piece in front of the man, then sweeps the mess into his hat and gives it back to the man. After he leaves, the thief tries to hold up the store with a gun, but Charlie is hiding behind him and knocks him on the head, saving the day.

Pawnshop1Although there is some good stuff in this movie, a lot of it feels recycled, such as the bit about Charlie using his slapstick skills to stop a robbery and the cleaning sequence which is very similar to “The Bank.” One brief gag I didn’t mention was a quick re-do of the opening to “The Bank,” where Charlie opens a safe and takes out his workclothes. This, time, about halfway through, he goes to a safe, quickly turns the combination seemingly at random, and takes out his lunch. It isn’t as funny or surprising this time. My favorite parts were the whole ladder sequence and the scenes where Charlie is “helping” (or being bilked by) the customers. His character is less “innocent” and likeable than in “The Vagabond,” for example, but one still sees him as sympathetic – he’s a victim of circumstances and it’s hard to blame him if he wants to get back at some of the people who mistreat him. The romance between him and Edna is decidedly downplayed in this movie.

Pawnshop2Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Roland Totheroh

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Wesley Ruggles, John Rand, Albert Austin, Eric Cambell, Henry Bergman

 Run Time: 24 Min

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