Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Frank D Williams

His Prehistoric Past (1914)

This early Charlie Chaplin film came at the end of his short tenure at Keystone Studios, and may by the most “mature” of the movies he made for the company. This post is a part of the Time Travel Blogathon, hosted by Silver Screenings and Wide Screen World. Check out the other entries here. I hope everyone was able to safely “time travel” back from Daylight Saving Time!

We see Chaplin in his familiar “Little Tramp” getup, trying to get comfortable for a nap on a park bench. There’s a funny bit of business where he tries to straighten it our despite a broken board. Soon, he’s a asleep, and the real movie begins in the “prehistoric” era. A group of cavemen and -women surrounds the “Kink,” a chieftan-type played by Mack Swain. Another caveman does a rather swishy effeminate dance, which put an odd spin on the “Kink” intertitle for me, but probably wouldn’t have for most audiences in 1914.  We now see Chaplin in a funny variation of his outfit: he still has the hat and cane, but now his traditional too-tight jacket and baggy pants have been replaced by a frayed bearskin. He has a pipe, and fills it with tobacco, then tries striking several rocks against his leg, as if they were matches. One finally lights, and he smokes the pipe. He spots an attractive young cavewoman (I believe this is Gene Marsh), who is fetching water for the “Kink” and goes to speak with her. He does some funny business with the tail of his bearskin. The “Kink” gets tired of waiting and sends the swishy caveman off to find the water girl. He sees Chaplin and fires an arrow into his bottom. Once the cavegirl gets it out, Charlie throws a large rock at the attacker, which misses him and flies over to hit the “Kink.” The caveman chases Charlie around a boulder with a pointed stick, and the “Kink” comes over to investigate, and winds up getting stuck in the bottom by the other caveman, who is clubbed by Charlie in turn.

The “Kink” is now convinced that Charlie is his friend, and he takes him back to the tribe, where everyone bows down. Charlie keeps hitting the “Kink” accidentally (or not) with his club, but manages to smooth it over or blame someone else each time. Charlie is invited in to the “Kink’s cave for a drink, but winds up spilling a lot of it when he tries to shake it like a martini inside two hollow rocks. He throws the rest of it into the face of a servant (Al St. John). The he goes out to meet the girls of the tribe. Of course, the one he met first is the only one he really wants, but he seems to enjoy the attention. Another caveman walks up and distracts them for a while, but Charlie clubs him and takes his girl over to some rocks by the seaside. When the “Kink” comes out, he sees Charlie frolicking in the waves with the girl (who seems quite close to having a wardrobe malfunction in her furs). The “Kink” finally becomes possessive and pulls her away from Charlie. He smooths things over with the “Kink” again and they have more drinks. The whole tribe starts up a dance (several girls dancing with girls here), and Charlie asks his girl to dance. They do a rather wild jitterbug-style dance, while the others look on. The “Kink” catches sight of this and challenges Charlie to prove himself as a hunter. He gives Charlie a bow and arrows, and they go out to the forest. Charlie targets a bird in a tree, but ends up hitting the nest, raining eggs down on the  “Kink” and himself. Charlie finds the girl by a cliff’s edge an starts taking to her, and when the “Kink” comes to object, he trips him over the ledge. The “Kink” falls a long way but seems fine. Charlie returns to the tribe and announces that he is the new “Kink.” Everyone bows down, but the caveman from the first dance finally gets up and helps the “Kink” climb back up the cliff. The “Kink” picks up a large rock and sneaks up behind Charlie, breaking it into fragments over his head. Suddenly we cut back to Charlie on the park bench. A police officer is smacking him with his billy club, telling the Little Tramp that it’s time to move on. The movie seems to set up an opportunity for Charlie to get the upper hand, but on current prints it cuts off before the final gag.

1918 poster that used stills from the movie.

In terms of time travel, this falls very clearly into the “dream sequence” category: the dream is clearly set up by a framing story at the beginning and the end, and the audience is never asked to accept that Charlie has actually traveled back to the Pleistocene era. Still, the majority of the movie takes place in the imagined past, and makes fun of various caveman tropes that audiences today will still recognize. Especially when Charlie deliberately plays with anachronisms like the match-rock, it reminds me of the Flintstones. Charlie has packed an awful lot of gags into this one piece, as evidenced by the length of the summary, above. I think his ambitions were probably straining the budgets, production schedules, and abilities of Keystone to keep up with, at this point, but the result stands out as a pretty impressive comedy.

Apart from time, this movie made me think a lot about space, and how it was handled in the Keystone universe. There are a limited number of locations: the tribal campground, the cave, the forest, the watering hole, the cliff, and the seaside. Each of these is a discrete unit defined by a single camera frame. The camera can zoom in on people and objects within the set, but it never moves to show us different parts of the area, or how they are related to one another. We know that all of these “sets” are near each other, because sometimes someone in one set can see what is happening in another, or even throws a rock or arrow from one to the next (or through it into another one), but when characters exit one area, they are invisible until they enter the next. In this sense, it reminds me of a classic “Interactive Fiction” computer game, like Zork, that was made up of various “rooms” the player could visit that interlocked in sometimes illogical geographies. Younger readers who’ve never experienced this might get some insight from the “Digital Antiquarian” blog, although you really need to play one of these games for yourself to understand. Anyway, this model is descriptive of a lot of Keystone’s output, and even some of the work Chaplin did at Essanay. It’s a style of filmmaking that links the early theatrical “proscenium” frames to the freer, more mobile camera of the late silent period, and I haven’t seen a lot of discussion about it, but it fascinates me.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Mack Swain, Gene Marsh, Al St. John, Fritz Schade, Cecile Arnold, Sydney Chaplin, Helen Carruthers

Run Time: 21 Min

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

The Butcher Boy (1917)

The first movie to feature an appearance by Buster Keaton came out almost 101 years ago. It was also the first movie Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle made for his new Comique Film Corporation, with full creative control over his own productions, after many years working for Mack Sennett at Keystone.

The movie is a two-reel slapstick comedy, and like a lot of  those by this time, it essentially consists of two separate but equally important “parts.” The first part concerns Arbuckle (whose character is named “Fatty.” so that’s what I’m going to call him for the rest of this review) at his job as a butcher’s assistant in a general store. The structure of this section reminds me a lot of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Pawnshop.” Various characters come into the shop and ask for things, and comic misadventures ensue, often due to the obliviousness, or deliberate laziness, of Fatty. Arbuckle demonstrates his agility by tossing knives into the air, which consistently land point-downward, lodged in the countertop. Once or twice he does this with another actor standing on the other side of the counter, which struck me as a bit dangerous, but he’s so casual about it that you’d think anyone could do it. Keaton’s part comes in this section and he is undeniably the most memorable of the various “customers.” He wants to buy a pail of molasses, and some very sticky comedy ensues. Among others, Lea over at Silentology has carefully analyzed this scene, and I can’t hope to add to what she says about it, so I’ll just say that for a first film appearance, Keaton has remarkable poise and confidence before the camera.

Shortly after Keaton’s bit, the plot starts to move forward. Fatty and Al St. John are both in competition for the one young woman that works at the store, played by Josephine Stevens. She’s the daughter of the owner, and she’s sweeter on Fatty than on “Slim,” but Slim can’t let it go. The two of them play pranks on each other that escalate into a full-scale war, with exploding bags of flour and other random store implements used to cause mayhem. The owner decides to send his daughter to a boarding school, to prevent any further such nonsense (presumably after firing Fatty and Slim both).

Thus begins the second part of the film, in which Fatty and Al both dress up as girls to sneak into the boarding school and see Josephine. Buster appears again as one of Al’s accomplices, but he has relatively little to do here. Fatty gets in first, and is able to charm the rest of the girls into at least tolerating him, but once Al is on the inside things rapidly escalate to a running pillow fight. Al’s cohorts, for some reason, also sneak into the school to help abduct Josephine, and before long they are caught and held at gunpoint by the schoolmarm. Once again, the scene devolves in chaos and Josephine and Fatty are able to escape. Still in girl’s clothes, he proposes to her in front of a minister’s house, and they go in, presumably to be married.

I’d rate this as a good, but not great, Arbuckle movie, and pretty much “of historical interest” for Keaton fans. This movie has the feel of someone trying things out, but perhaps being afraid of going too far at first. I was surprised how much was shot in long-shot, as if Arbuckle was afraid to move his camera too close to all the flying bags of flour and thrown knives. However, choreographing some of that chaos in long shot is still a feat to be proud of. Arbuckle did plenty of drag, before and after this, as well as many roles where he had some kind of customer service job but mostly abused his customers. In fact, he had combined the two before (in “Waiters Ball”). My favorite Arbuckle movies play more on his “big kid” likeability, his boyish charm, and his being the good guy who is wronged by his opponent, but in this one he’s no better than Al St. John, the girl just happens to like him better. At least he’s not forcing himself on her.

It’s interesting that Buster does maintain his “stone face” in this film, given that in “Oh Doctor” he would be expressive to a fault – maybe that was an Arbuckle suggestions that didn’t work out. In his autobiography, Keaton would claim he’d been told his was the first debut in film that didn’t require any re-takes, but that’s dubious in the extreme, considering that nobody was doing re-takes a little more than a decade earlier, and that some people’s debut scenes were literally walk-bys. He does demonstrate comic timing and physical prowess in the stunts Arbuckle demands of him, and if it was done in a single take, it was a good day’s work for sure.

Director: Roscoe Arbuckle

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Cast: Roscoe Arbuckle, Al St. John, Josephine Stevens, Buster Keaton, Joe Bordeaux, Luke the Dog

Run Time: 24 Min

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

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).

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)

 

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).

Mabel’s Married Life (1914)

Mabels Married Life

With this Keystone comedy, we get to see how Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand worked together under Charlie’s direction, so this may be a good movie to compare to “Caught in a Cabaret” and some of the other early Chaplins I’ve discussed this week. I’ll admit, the plot holds together better and both characters seem better defined, but this may not be a result of better direction, just the fact that Charlie had come to know “the Little Tramp” better by this point in the year. At any rate, there don’t seem to be “corrected” versions floating around, so the original edit must have satisfied Charlie, or whoever was responsible for the alternate “Caught in a Cabaret.”

 Mabel's_Married_Life_(1914)

Here, Mabel and Charlie are a married couple, and his frequent film-rival Mack Swain is married to one Eva Nelson, who I don’t believe I’ve seen before. They meet in a park that is conveniently near to a saloon. Charlie goes into the saloon and tries to scam some drinks. Meanwhile Mack tries picking up on Mabel. When Charlie returns and sees this, he is unable to deter Mack, even with attempted physical force (Mack just shrugs it off). So, Charlie gets Eva, who has more influence. Mabel and Eva get into a fight, however, and Charlie takes the worst of it. She and Mack leave, Charlie returns to the bar, and Mabel goes shopping. She decides to buy a large mannequin (or punching bag) and dresses it like Mack Swain (OK, that’s weird. Maybe she is into him after all). Mack enters the bar where Charlie is and encourages the other patrons in mocking him. Charlie fights back, knocking pretty much everyone over. Then Charlie, doing his full-on “funny drunk” makes his way home to be confronted by the mannequin. Of course, he thinks it’s Swain and picks a fight. Of course, it’s weighted, so it just bounces back and hits him just as hard every time he hits it. Mabel watches him and laughs. Eventually she goes out and tries to show him he’s fighting a dummy, and winds up getting hit herself. She and Charlie end up on the floor together.

 Mabel's_Married_Life_(1914)1

This movie is paced better than a lot of the early Keystones I’ve been reviewing, and Charlie was smart to make use of Mabel’s reaction shots during the fight with the dummy; they often elevate the humor of his pratfalls. He also clearly respects her as a comedienne (whatever he later said of her as a director) because he gives her several scenes to do funny bits of her own, and plays off her well in their scenes together. Typically, a Keystone ends with a chase or just a degeneration into a scene of crowd-chaos, but here, the ending is actually somewhat understated. The biggest scenes of violence we get are those with Charlie and the patrons at the bar, but the dummy isn’t at all anticlimactic, because Charlie keeps upping the ante and getting hit back twice as hard each time. Still a very simple film, but it works.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Mack Swain, Eva Nelson, Harry McCoy, Al St. John

Run Time: 13 Min

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

Cruel Cruel Love (1914)

Cruel_Cruel_Love_1914

Here’s an early Charlie Chaplin movie from Keystone  in which he does not play his “Little Tramp” character, but is good nonetheless. Charlie is a well-to-do fellow (enough to have a car and servants in 1914) who wears a variation on his getup from “Making a Living” or “Mabel at the Wheel,” but with more understated facial hair. He’s in love with Minta Durfee (real life wife of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who we saw with him in “The Rounders” and “Fatty Joins the Force”), but she catches him canoodling with the maid and calls off the engagement. Despondent, Charlie goes home and attempts suicide, but the butler replaces his poison with water. Charlie makes a show his imminent demise and Minta races to the rescue, having forgiven him. Some comic doctors show up, but Charlie’s strenuous acrobatics keep them from getting much done. Finally, having wrecked his room and given flying kicks to nearly everyone, Charlie is alone with Minta, apparently happy to be alive and in love.

 Cruel Cruel Love

This movie was quite early in Chaplin’s screen appearances, and it looks to me as though Mack Sennett used it as a means to display Charlie’s comedic physicality. The race to the rescue does include some interesting inter-cutting, showing that the techniques of editing had made their way to the smaller studios already, and for his fantasy of arriving in Hell as a suicide, we get some basic Méliès-style magical effects. Also, one shot of Charlie maddened face as he imagines the “poison” taking effect counts as a medium close-up, although he moves away from the camera afterward returning to “normal” distance from it.

Directors: Mack Sennett, George Nichols

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Minta Durfee, Edgar Kennedy

Run Time: 9 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Laughing Gas (1914)

Laughing Gas

This is another of Charlie Chaplin’s Keystone comedies, which he directed in the Summer of 1914. The premise is that he is a dentist’s assistant and causes all kinds of mayhem with the patients, the dentist himself (Fritz Schade, also in “His Musical Career” and “Dough and Dynamite”), and the dentist’s wife (Alice Howell, from “Caught in the Rain” and “The Knockout”). The ubiquitous Mack Swain (who was also in “Caught in the Rain” and would co-star in “The Gold Rush”) turns up as one of the patients. Charlie’s character is, if anything, less likeable here than in movies such as “Mabel at the Wheel” and “Tillie’s Punctured Romance” where he played an explicit villain. His objective most of the time seems to be to cause pain and start fights, when he isn’t masquerading as a dentist in order to hit on a pretty girl. He also appears to take pleasure in dosing people heavily with the titular gas. Most of the movie is nonstop chaos, though, and it can’t be denied that it keeps up its frenetic pace and provides laughs with its cartoon-violence.

Alternate Titles: “Busy Little Dentist,” “Down an Out,” “Laffing Gas,” “The Dentist,” and “Turning His Ivories.”

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Fritz Schade, Alice Howell, Mack Swain

Run Time: 13 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Caught in the Rain (1914)

Caught_in_the_Rain

Charlie Chaplin teamed up with the Keystone Kops for this simple Keystone comedy in May of 1914, assuring that it would have the key elements of “a girl, a park and a policeman.” In this case, it also has two of Chaplin’s better foils, Mack Swain (most famously co-starring in “The Gold Rush” and also in “Tillie’s Punctured Romance”) and Alice Davenport (also in “The Star Boarder” and “The Property Man” in 1914). Here, they are a married couple who Chaplin meets in the park, attempting in his drunkenly naïve way to flirt with the wife before being driven off by the husband. In a typically Keystone coincidence, Charlie winds up in the same hotel, and the wife’s problem of sleepwalking leads to further problems before Charlie finds himself soaked in his pajamas during a rainstorm. His drunk act is the real hit of the show, particularly his difficulty ascending the stairs to his hotel room. This was actually the first movie in which Chaplin directed himself, reputedly because Mabel Normand now refused to work with him while Mack Sennett couldn’t afford to fire him. There’s nothing outstanding in the direction here, but clearly in the roughly four months that he’d worked at Keystone, Chaplin picked up the essentials of running a taut comedy with multiple screens interacting to heighten mayhem.

Caught_in_the_Rain1

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Mack Swain, Alice Davenport, Alice Howell

Run Time: 16 Min

You can watch it for free: here.