Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Fritz Schade

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).

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)

Fatty’s New Role (1915)

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle seems to be imitating Charlie Chaplin’sLittle Tramp” character in this one reel comedy from Keystone about a homeless man’s efforts to patronize a bar. Arbuckle brings his own personal style, however, and a subplot about a mad bomber and a prank on the tavern owner makes this different from any obvious slapstick models.

Fattys New RoleFatty wakes up in a hayloft and combs his hair in front of a cracked mirror hanging on a fence. He is dressed in ill-fitting clothes and seems to have several days’ growth of beard. He smokes a cigar. He sees a dog and panics, perhaps expecting to be chased off the property, and finds himself in front of “Schnitz’s Bar.” He goes in and asks for a refill on his empty liquor bottle. The bartender (Slim Summerville) agrees, but then gets annoyed when he starts taking free samples of the food that is laid out for a breakfast buffet. The tavern owner (Mack Swain) comes out to moderate and takes the food back and also dumps out Fatty’s bottle. Then he forcefully ejects Fatty. Fatty breaks his bottle open and takes out the handkerchief inside, wrings it out into a glass and takes a drink.

Fattys New Role1Back at the tavern, some of the patrons have seen a newspaper article about a bomber that has destroyed three taverns after being ejected for stealing food. They decide to play “a prank” by writing a threatening note which seems to be from Fatty. Meanwhile, Fatty runs into a rich gentleman (Edgar Kennedy) who gives him some money. He uses it to buy a round block of smelly cheese. The patrons and staff are clearing out of the tavern as the appointed time draws near, but Mack is still hanging around nervously, jumping at the slightest sound, when Fatty wanders back in with his cheese tucked under his coat. Mack finally panics and runs away, tearing through the streets of the city and leaving Fatty alone in the bar. He eats his cheese and pours himself free drinks, getting bolder and thirstier as he goes. Finally, he heads down to the basement to investigate the barrels of booze on hand. Mack has found some Keystone Cops to come back to the bar with him, thinking it has already blown up When they get there, Fatty is standing on a whiskey barrel with a mallet in the basement and he hits it, causing an explosion that knocks him upstairs and into the cops’ arms. Fatty finally passes out from all the booze.

Fattys New Role2I was a tad hungover when I watched this, so not really in condition to appreciate all the drinking humor. I do think that Arbuckle manages to give the “tramp” character an original portrayal, somehow managing to keep his good-natured innocence even as he portrays an alcoholic bum. The disc I watched this on claimed the movie features “Mack Swain and Ford Sterling.” I spotted Swain well enough, and there’s a number of other recognizable Keystone players, but I never saw Sterling. I think it’s a mistake, because imdb, Wikipedia, and “The Silent Era” all give similar cast lists without Sterling’s name on them. Fatty does get a lot of screen time alone in this movie, despite the large cast, and some of the funniest bits are just him being drunk or doing bits of business by himself.

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Slim Summerville, Mack Swain, Edgar Kennedy, Joe Bordeaux, Glen Cavender, Luke the Dog, Al St. John, Fritz Schade, Frank Hayes

Run Time: 13 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

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).

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.