Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Chester Conklin

The Great Toe Mystery (1914)

This short comedy from Keystone Studios seems to play upon themes established 11 years earlier in “The Gay Shoe Clerk,” but with a touch of Mack Sennett’s chaotic style thrown in for flavor. It still looks a bit old-fashioned for 1914, possibly deliberately so.

The movie begins with an establishing shot outside of a shoe store. A young lady (Alice Howell) and a man with a silly mustache are standing in front, and he takes her by the arm and leads her inside. We now cut to the interior, where a thin, slightly foppish young man speaks to them. Evidently the first man is buying shoes for himself and his wife. The first shoe clerk summons another over to see to the gentleman, and he leads the lady to the other side of the store, where she sits while the salesman summons another clerk (Charley Chase), this one being flamboyant and feminine in his gestures. She offers him her foot to measure, but he reacts in melodramatic horror to see her toes peeking through the end of a torn stocking. He seems to be lecturing her on hygiene, and she reacts by looking away from him. The husband sees this, and comes over to glare at the clerk. He runs to the back, to get her shoes ready for sale, and decides to put a note in her shoes. He borrows a pen and paper from a female coworker, and then delivers the shoebox to the clearly annoyed lady customer. She and the husband exit the store, evidently arguing about the clerk’s unwanted attentions. They go in separate directions.

The wife returns home (“broken-hearted,” according to an intertitle) and commiserates with her maid (Dixie Chene). She takes a magazine outside to read, discarding the unlucky shoes unopened. Meanwhile, “Mr. Birdie” (the clerk) is now going to the park to for what he hopes to be a rendezvous with a married woman. Of course, he encounters Alice on a park bench, sobbing because of the fight with her husband, and sits next to her, oblivious to her feelings. Now the husband comes home and finds the discarded shoes with the note, vowing to murder the clerk (whom he de-genders as “it” in the intertitles) if he finds them together. The maid is meanwhile flirting with a rather dim-witted young man (possibly a delivery boy, from his attire, or else another servant like a gardener), to the husband’s decided disapproval. The husband rushes out to the park and finds the two of them together, making threatening gestures that the clerk laughs off until he produces a gun and starts shooting at the ground.

Now, a classic Keystone chase begins, and the wife and the maid rapidly enlist the aid of Keystone Kops. Of course, the clerk decides to hide in a chest that the dim-looking servant brings into the house, so now he has no possibility of escape. A comedy routine involves the many steps the servant has to go up (and frequently falls back down) while carrying the chest and tension is held as several people start to open the chest before being distracted by something else. Ultimately, the maid finds him and the chase begins anew, with Birdie hiding in the dumbwaiter, unable to find an unoccupied room to escape into. The Kops now arrive in force, and begin shooting at the servant, not evidently knowing who they are after or why. He hides under the sink, which the Kops promptly shoot full of holes. Finally, the clerk manages to fight everyone off with his handkerchief, knocking over the whole cast, and, snapping his fingers, leaves the house with a rude gesture.

Charley Chase’s performance really makes this movie something special, and it’s very hard for a modern audience not to read his gestures and body language as queer – something which quite possibly could have been intentional on his part, whether or not audiences of 1914 were sophisticated enough to get the joke. That makes it twice as funny that the title of the obvious inspiration of “The Gay Shoe Clerk” had a different meaning at the time. It also struck me with this viewing that the title’s similarity to the other 1903 hit “The Great Train Robbery” (itself basically a well-edited chase movie) might have been intentional as well, meaning that Sennett was lampooning Edison in more than one way here. The editing of this movie keeps it moving effectively, and all of the random elements work together well, with the absurdity of the situation constantly growing, but without giving the audience too much time to reflect on how silly it all is. This is one of the more fun Keystones I’ve seen, in fact and it holds up well enough today.

Director: Charles Avery

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Charley Chase, Alice Howell, Dixie Chene, Chester Conklin, Harry McCoy, Rube Miller

Run Time: 11 Min, 8 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Gentlemen of Nerve (1914)

This short from Keystone seems to be yet another remake of Charlie Chaplin’s first appearance as the Little Tramp, but also demonstrates how far he had come as a director in a few months. He and the Keystone gang are once again at a racetrack, causing a ruckus.

The movie begins with Chester Conklin and Mabel Normand showing up together at the gate, while Mack Swain and Charlie both try to sneak past the guards to get in. Chester seems very jealous to protect Mabel from harassment by Mack, but has a decidedly roving eye once he sits down next to Phyllis Allen. Early in the picture, we get some actuality footage of drivers competitively changing tires as a part of the races. Meanwhile, after a brief confrontation, Charlie and Mack have teamed up t find a way into the races without paying. They find a loose board in the fence and try to slip through, but Mack is of course much too large and quickly gets stuck. Charlie tires pushing him through from behind, then crawls in through his legs and tries pulling from the other side. A group of revelers is on this side, watching their struggles with amusement. Charlie helps one of them fix a drink, then uses the spritzer to prevent a cop (Edgar Kennedy) from arresting Mack, who finally breaks through. He also sprays Mack in the process. They go their separate ways, and soon Charlie runs into Chester and Mabel.

Just don’t fart, Mack!

Mabel has gotten Chester away from Phyllis, but now she shows an interest in Charlie. They fight in front of a big crowd, most of whom seem to be more interested in Charlie than the races. Chester and Mabel go back to their seats near Phyllis, and get into a fight as well. Charlie finds a seat near Alice Davenport, who seems interested in him until he steals her soda, then starts offering it to other women. Soon Mabel trips over Charlie’s feet, and he seems uncertain which woman to focus on, especially after Mabel ruins his hat. Mabel and Charlie go to look at a race car with a propeller, and soon Charlie is running around the track to avoid getting hit. Chester now insults Phyllis by whispering something in her ear, and she hits him and he runs away, now discovering Mabel and Charlie together. He threatens violence against Mabel, and Charlie takes a long time removing his coat before hitting him. The cop finds Mack and arrests him just as Chester blunders into him from Charlie’s blow and both are taken in while Mabel and Charlie laugh in a close two-shot.

While this movie takes some advantage of the crowds and location of the race track, a lot of it is shot under much more controlled circumstances than “Kid Auto Races at Venice” and it more closely resembles “Mabel’s Busy Day,” except that Mabel and Charlie end up together, rather than as rivals. It’s very easy to see from the scenes with Chaplin in them that he was now a recognizable figure in public, and that the public was eager to watch him. I always remember when I watch these early Chaplins that many critics called him “vulgar” and I certainly thought about this during the scenes in which Charlie tries to push Mack through the fence, often by shoving on his buttocks or pushing them with a stick. There’s even some talk that the women in these movies could have been portraying sex workers, given their ready willingness to flit from one stranger to another, although Phyllis obviously wasn’t willing to go as far as Chester wanted on a first meeting. It seems as if Charlie had figured out by now that his Little Tramp character was the sympathetic one for audiences – he almost always comes out ahead in every situation here, while Mack and Chester are foils for his gags.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Chester Conklin, Mack Swain, Alice Davenport, Edgar Kennedy

Run Time: 15 Min

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

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).

The Face on the Bar Room Floor (1914)

In this early short from Keystone Studios, Charlie Chaplin attempts to stretch his character and his filmmaking a bit beyond the established formulae of the studio and the slapstick genre. It may not entirely work, but it’s a fascinating experiment nonetheless.

Each small scene in this film is preceded by a forward-facing intertitle containing a few lines (sometimes two, usually four), from a poem called “The Face upon the Barroom Floor.” The scenes are sometimes quite brief, and the audience spends almost as much time reading as viewing. The story of the poem concerns a young artist who fell in love with one of his models, only to lose her to a friend he introduces her to, and who becomes a dissolute drunk who cannot forget her. The title comes from his effort to depict his love’s portrait using a piece of chalk for an appreciative audience of fellow inebriates at a local saloon. At the beginning of the film, the scenes shown are generally simple depictions of the words of the poem, but as the film progresses, there is more “business” and interpretation thrown in for laughs. Charlie chews absently on his paintbrush, he steps on his palette or sits on paint. Finally, at the end, he is shown as too drunk to effectively draw on the floor, and the scene degenerates into a typical Keystone riot, with Charlie fighting off an entire crowd and a policeman that happens by.

As I suggested above, what’s impressive about this film isn’t so much in its execution, but its aspiration, and the fact that it was allowed to be made at all. Chaplin makes an effort here to break the mold of slapstick movie making, to bring greater depth and sympathy to his character. and to make something a touch more “artistic” than what he was generally doing at Keystone. He still had a lot to learn, but he already knew that he didn’t want to just go on doing things in the same way as everyone else before him. And, his stardom was such that, even here in the summer following his first releases in February, he had the clout to make something that his boss Mack Sennett had to regard as a questionable gamble. Among the problems the film faces are too much text and not enough laughs, but it’s possible that his name and image were already popular enough that it didn’t lose anyone any money. Nickelodeons were happy enough just to be able to advertise a “new Chaplin” – whether it was a success or not didn’t even matter. Fortunately, Charlie would keep working to improve, and not let his fame go to his head, because in the future, he would succeed where this movie largely fails.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Chester Conklin, Harry McCoy, Cecile Arnold, Fritz Schade, Vivian Edwards, Hank Mann

Run Time: 14 Min

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

The Property Man (1914)

This early Charlie Chaplin short has elements in common with later films, like “Back Stage” starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Buster Keaton, though all of them probably drew from Vaudeville routines as their sources. It shows both the roughness of Chaplin’s early work, and the rapidity with which he developed.

Charlie is a stage hand for a popular theater with a variety show. The opening shot shows him taking a break with an elderly co-worker (I think it’s Joe Bordeaux). Charlie is drinking out of a large pitcher, and when the old man reaches for it, Charlie twists his ear and spits out what is in his mouth at the man. We see the arrival of some stars (Phyllis Allen and Charles Bennett) who are angry to find that their act is not billed on the poster outside, although they insist on trying to take the “star’s” dressing room – which is reserved for the strong man (Jess Dandy), who is only too happy to show them the door when he gets there. Charlie sits under a “no smoking” sign, smoking a pipe, although  he eagerly points it out to the actors when thy light up. When the strong man lights a cigar, Charlie discreetly turns the sign toward the wall.  Naturally, the strong man has a lovely assistant (Helen Carruthers) and naturally, she and Charlie hit it off, enraging the strong man. Charlie does several pratfalls built around the supposed weight of the strong man’s luggage, bashing into the rest of the cast as he staggers around beneath the huge crates which the strong man lifts effortlessly. Later, Charlie takes a hatbox and straps the heavy stuff to his senior co-worker, who collapses under the weight. When “the Goo Goo Sisters” (another act, billed as “comediennes” on the billboard) show up, Charlie tries to flirt with them as well, but he hides the pitcher in his pants, resulting in an embarrassing leak.

Not helping, Charlie.

The strong man asks Charlie to sew up his tights, although Charlie winds up using them to mop the floor instead. Meanwhile, the matinee has started and Charlie and his coworker fight behind the scenes, causing a backdrop to hit an unpopular singer and knock him out. Charlie sweeps him off the stage, to the delight of the audience (which includes Mack Sennett and Chester Conklin). When the Goo Goo Sisters, in scanty costumes (for 1914 anyway) go on stage, Charlie first follows them out to stare, then blindfolds his partner to prevent him from staring. Their backstage fighting causes them to bump the sisters through the backdrop, again to the delight of the audience. Charlie throws the wet tights, which miss his target and hits a sister, who then throws them into the audience, thinking someone has thrown them instead of booing. There is a long gap between acts, because the strong man lacks tights and his assistant is busy flirting with Charlie, so when the old man raises the curtain, the audience finds the three of them arguing, with the strong man’s garters exposed. He gamely goes ahead with his act, but his assistant has been knocked out in the fighting, so Charlie tries to help, causing more chaos and riotous laughter from the audience. Charlie goes backstage to help the assistant, while the other actors harangue his partner. The old man lowers a backdrop on the strong man while he tries to balance over 1000 lbs of weight, ruining his act. Now the strong man goes back stage and finds Charlie fanning his unconscious assistant, and goes on a rampage, also ruining the dramatic act of the other performers. To defend himself, Charlie grabs a fire hose and sprays him and the other performers, also drenching the entire audience.

As I commented above, this movie has a lot in common with “Back Stage,” most obviously including the angry strong man and his lovely assistant, but I doubt if Arbuckle was actually being any less original than Chaplin – both would have been drawing from established Vaudeville routines which many in their audience were already familiar with. “Back Stage” is also a rather more polished movie in terms of camerawork, plot, and character, but it’s not entirely fair to compare 1914 with 1919, or Chaplin at this point in career with Arbuckle at that point in his. What I can say is that this is one of the funnier movies Chaplin directed himself in during the summer of 1914, and this is so despite the constraints of the Keystone formula and his own limitations due to lack of experience and knowledge of his character. Chaplin isn’t really the “nice” version of the Tramp here – his constant use of violence, especially against his older and demonstrably weaker colleague argues against that – but he manages to evoke a degree of sympathy or identification in the audience nonetheless, perhaps just by being the little fellow who gets the best of everyone around him. There’s a kind of metaphor at work when his various inopportune moments on the stage prove more popular with the in-movie audience than the planned performances; it seems to reflect how his growing fame took studio heads at Keystone by surprise.

Chaplin delights an audience.

There’s a question here, also: Is he playing the “Little Tramp” or not? His mustache is now established (he’d abandon it later in “Tillie’s Punctured Romance,” but not often after that). but the rest of his costume consists her of oversized overalls and a bowler hat with a rim that is nearly falling off. The strong man refers to him in an intertitle as “that bum,” which at least makes a bit of a connection. It seems likely that Chaplin himself didn’t know for sure whether the Little Tramp would take a job as strenuous as property man, and may have been ambivalent about the character here.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Jess Dandy, Helen Carruthers, Joe Bordeaux, Phyllis Allen, Charles Bennett, Mack Sennett, Chester Conklin, Alice Davenport, Harry McCoy, Norma Nichols, Cecile Arnold, Vivian Edwards

Run Time: 24 Min

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

Twenty Minutes of Love (1914)

A classic example of Charlie Chaplin’s adage that comedy could be reduced to “a park, a policeman, and a pretty girl,” this early Keystone short really captures his development of the “Little Tramp” character in a way that will seem familiar to audiences that know only his later work. The Chaplin we know and love begins to shine through here.

When Charlie laughs, we all laugh with him.

As is often the case with early Keystones, there isn’t much of a plot, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense: Charlie is in a park and sees various couples necking (these include Minta Durfee, Edgar Kennedy, and Chester Conklin). He seems to want to “cut in” on some of the men, and the women are decidedly uninterested in him. One girl asks her boyfriend to bring her a gift, and he steals a pocket watch off a sleeping man, which Charlie subsequently steals from him and presents to the same girl as a present. A policeman gets involved and hijinks ensue, ending with nearly everyone getting booted into the lake.

What stands out for me in this movie is really Chaplin’s performance, which is no longer villainous or even cruelly mischievous, but surprisingly sympathetic. While there is something creepy about a man seeing a woman kissing another man and taking that as a cue that “perhaps she would kiss me too,” Chaplin makes it seem simply naïve, clueless, and even a little sad. This is the birth of the famous pathos he would bring to his character in later movies like “The Tramp” and “The Bank,” and which would define him in the more well-known features to come. Chaplin’s gestures and facial expressions are far less aggressive than we’ve seen in movies like “Making a Living” or “Mabel at the Wheel,” in which he seems to have been directed  to emulate Ford Sterling.

Keystone’s cinematic style is established by this time. Cameras do not move or change focal length, but are locked down in long shot to establish “stages” or “rooms” that the actors move about within and between. Sometimes a character in one “room” interacts with one in another “room” (for example by throwing rocks at them), but there is no sense of what is between these spaces or any established geography among them. Doing this, however, allows for stunts to be timed by editing rather than the performance – a rock can be thrown, a person can duck under that rock, and another be struck by it in perfect timing, even if it really uses three separate shots to make it happen, with each actor doing his bit in his own way.

Director: Uncertain, possibly Charlie Chaplin, possibly with Joseph Maddern

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Minta Durfee, Edgar Kennedy, Chester Conklin, Gordon Griffith, Josef Swickard, Hank Mann, Eva Nelson

Run Time: 10 Min, 37 secs

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

Those Love Pangs (1914)

Those_Love_Pangs_(poster)

This is a somewhat late-period Charlie Chaplin Keystone comedy. He and Chester Conklin (from “Caught in a Cabaret” and “The Masquerader”) are “Rival Mashers” who live together in a boarding house. It’s hard to believe that women would respond to these two hobo-like men with odd facial hair, but they do. First, Charlie and Chester compete for the attentions of the landlady, pricking each other in the butt with a fork (nothing sexually suggestive about THAT, though is there?) whenever she gives them to the other. Then, they go out into the familiar park we’ve seen in nearly every other Keystone short. There, they encounter two young ladies, one of who has a boyfriend (Vivian Edwards, also in “His New Profession” and “Fatty and Mabel at the San Diego Exposition”), the other of whom shows a strong interest in Chester (Cecile Arnold, who was also in “The Masquerader” and “Dough and Dynamite”). With both of them paired off, Charlie has to try to intercede, resulting in a confrontation with the boyfriend, who gets dunked in the pond. Then, Charlie convinces the girls to accompany him to a Nickelodeon. He doesn’t notice when the men come in and take their places, and there’s a great comic stunt where he panics and manages to knock over every one of the rickety wooden chairs in the theater. Then he’s thrown through the screen. The End.

 Those Love Pangs

Obviously, there are a lot of familiar pieces to this typical short. Charlie’s “Little Tramp” still isn’t as sympathetic as he would become in following years, but we start to get the feeling that he’s the one to root for, even when he’s transgressing social bounds and acting “badly.” The soaking of the boyfriend is anticipated with several “near falls” by Chaplin, who is saved each time by the boyfriend, making it all the funnier when Chaplin finally pushes him into the drink. There are more close-ups in this one, including a long linger one on Cecile – either Chapin thought she was hot or it was in her contract or something. It’s also another of the Chaplins which uses a movie theater as a set, this time filled with Keystone players who are at times a little too obviously in on the joke. It’s a good example of what Chaplin had learned to do in his year at Keystone, but still only a step in his ongoing development.

Those Love Pangs1

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Chester Conklin, Virginia Edwards, Cecile Arnold, Helen Carruthers

Run Time: 12 Min

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

The Masquerader (1914)

Charlie Chaplin arrives for a day of work at Keystone.

Charlie Chaplin arrives for a day of work at Keystone.

Once again, I’ve found various “edits” of this early Charlie Chaplin Keystone short, with different intertitles and lengths. I’ll discuss the differences at the end, but first I’m going to focus on what I believe to be the more authentic “original” version (at least it’s longer).

 Masquerader

Charlie is employed at a film studio called…Keystone Studios! In fact, this movie clearly saved on money by using the existing studio for its location, but also may have deliberately given curious audiences a peek inside the “dream machine” that produced their favorite comedies. This is emphasized by the fact that the opening shot gives us Charlie in his street clothes, with no makeup on, and then the movie proceeds to his dressing room, where he turns by stages into the “Little Tramp” we’ve come to know so well. Along the way, he meets up with Fatty Arbuckle, another major Keystone star, and Fatty tricks him into drinking hair tonic before they both bump heads across the dressing room table for slapstick effect. Then he goes out to the set, where he is given simple instructions of when to enter and what his cue is. Unfortunately, he’s distracted by some pretty girls (including Fatty’s then-wife, Minta Durfee) and misses the cue, so the director replaces him with Chester Conklin. Then he messes up THAT shot, and is thrown off the lot entirely.

 Masquerader2

The next scene shows a very attractive, though conservatively dressed, young woman applying for a job at Keystone. All the boys are crazy for her and the director is particularly amorous. She convinces him to let her take over the boys’ dressing room (surely there’s a women’s dressing room somewhere, but never mind), and when she finally gets him to leave, she takes off her wig and turns into the Little Tramp. It’s been Charlie all along! The director is bullied by the men into finding out what’s taking so long, and finds him there with her clothes, slowly putting it together and initiating a fast chase with everyone in the joint. Charlie throws some bricks at his pursuers, but he ends up knocked by one their missiles into a convenient well. The gang resolve to leave him there.

ACT-ing!

ACT-ing!

Since this movie was directed by Charlie himself, I’m less inclined to blame him for the unfortunate re-edit, which may have been done by the studio while they still held the rights. This re-edit cuts the entire scene with Charlie missing his cue and jumps to him interfering with Conklin for no apparent reason. The added intertitles are, as usual, not helpful to the comedy, and one of them actually telegraphs the fact that Charlie is the new girl on the set, ruining the surprise when s/he takes off the wig! Of course, if you read this review before watching, that was already spoiled for you…

Masquerader_(1914)

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Minta Durfee, Chester Conklin, Fritz Schade, Harry McCoy

Run Time: 12 Min (original), 9 min (re-edit)

You can watch it for free: here (original, no music) or here (re-edit, with music).

Caught in a Cabaret (1914)

Caught_in_a_Cabaret_(poster)

For this Charlie Chaplin Keystone comedy, I had to look a bit to find the most “authentic” 1914 version. Charlie, you see, bought the rights to most of his early films and re-released them in the sound era, often re-editing them to “improve” them for sound audiences. You can read a good analysis of the two versions of “The Gold Rush” over at Movies Silently. For this one, the first version I came across (and you can find this one several places on the Internet) had a suspiciously large number of Intertitles, which got me wondering. Movies from 1914 were generally pretty light in Intertitles, and Keystone shorts in particular. Sure enough, it’s the re-edit, which lacks several critical scenes and is actually less funny (to me, at least) because the Intertitles try to put verbal spins on the physical action, but just wind up interrupting it. Since this is a historical project, I’m going to focus on what seems to be the older version, without getting into debates about who has the right to re-edit movies.

 Caught in a Cabaret

Here, Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” is a waiter in a low-class tavern establishment with dancing and a floor show, which I guess qualified it as a “cabaret” by California standards of the day. Minta Durfee is present as a singer and dancer and Chester Conklin is one of Charlie’s fellow employees (he dances a bit as well, possibly off the clock). He takes his dog for a walk on his lunch break and meets Mabel Normand, a wealthy but clueless society girl, while she’s in the process of getting robbed in a park. She takes to him and he poses as someone above his station (the re-edit calls him “Ambassador from Greece,” the older one says “Prime Minister of Greenland;” possibly in a truly original print there’d be no on-screen title for his calling card at all), so she invites him over to meet the folks. They ask him to return for a party later, but a wealthy suitor has been watching it all and follows him back to his dive-y restaurant. Charlie makes up with the boss for being late by conking a large trouble-maker on the head with a mallet, and then dresses “up” and goes off to the party. He flirts with Mabel, getting extremely drunk in the process, then goes back to work again (sheesh!). Now the suitor sees his chance, and suggests to the garden party that they go slumming in town. They pile into the car and head to Chaplin’s place of employment, where he comes out to serve them and does a very funny bit pretending that he just happened to wander in there, which is completely ruined by the Intertitles in the newer version, but of course he is found out, and a fight breaks out between him, his boss, and the rich folks, which rapidly descends into complete chaos. Yes, a pie is thrown in someone’s face (but only one), but that’s only the start of the troubles…

 Caught_in_a_Cabaret_(1914)1

Like a number of Chaplin’s early films, this was directed by Mabel Normand, who, he would insist years later in his autobiography, Chaplin did not regard as a competent director (she was only 22 at the time). He also made it sound like it only happened once or twice, but as this project has demonstrated, there were a few instances. Still, Charlie may have felt more at liberty in his re-edits after the fact since he didn’t think she was a good director. The story is somewhat more complex than is usual for a Keystone short, with Charlie bouncing back and forth between two locations and identities, and the climactic scene of pandemonium takes longer to get to (and is somewhat less satisfying) than in many of the simpler ones. Unfortunately, by cutting out necessary explanatory scenes, Charlie’s later attempt to “fix” the movie only made it less coherent, and, oddly, he cuts down the climax as well (including the pie-in-the-face). Where I chuckled a few times at his version, hers got belly laughs from me.

How many Keystone regulars can you name in this shot?

How many Keystone regulars can you name in this shot?

Director: Mabel Normand

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Minta Durfee, Chester Conklin, Edgar Kennedy, Harry McCoy

Run Time: 19 Min (longest version)

You can watch it for free: here. Or take your chances with the re-edit: here.

Mabel’s Busy Day (1914)

This Charlie Chaplin film from Keystone studios works as a kind of sequel to “Kid Auto Races at Venice.” At least some of it seems to have been filmed on location at a live event, but this time Charlie’s acrobatics noticeably engage part of the crowd, and there is a much bigger cast for him to play off. It was directed by his co-star, Mabel Normand, about whom he would say mean things in his autobiography years later. In this, she keeps up with him in terms of physical comedy and audience sympathy.

 Mabels Busy Day

Mabel and Charlie both enter the grounds of the races under questionable pretenses. She wants to get in to sell her hot dogs, and bribes a cop (Chester Conklin, from “The Masquerader” and “Mabel at the Wheel“) with a free sample to get in a side door. He tries to bluff his way in the front, and winds up chased by several cops, and knocking them down several times in the process of getting away. She gets ripped off by a couple of customers (including Mack Sennett, studio owner and reputed boyfriend of Mabel), and Charlie gets into trouble while flirting and going through women’s purses. They meet up and he distracts her in order to steal her hot dogs, then becomes wildly successful at selling them, although he also fights with some of his customers. Mabel goes back to the cop and gets him to threaten Charlie, which can only lead to more chaos.

 Mabels Busy Day1

Altogether, it’s pretty primitive slapstick, and not up to the standards Charlie would later set but it’s better than some of the really early shorts he made, and is a chance to see quite a number of Keystone regulars all in one place. Certain edits suggest that parts were shot on location and part back at the studio, and they mesh pretty well if you’re not looking for it, showing that it was less spontaneous than it at times appears.

Director: Mabel Normand

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett, Chester Conklin, Edgar Kennedy, Slim Summerville

Run Time: 9 Min

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