Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Leo White

Work (1915)

In this Charlie Chaplin short from Essanay, Chaplin returns to a somewhat more nuanced, sympathetic performance while still sticking to the familiar tropes of slapstick: violence, revenge, flirtation, and people slipping and falling down.

Work1We are introduced to a family of husband (Billy Armstrong), wife (Marta Golden), and maid (Edna Purviance), who are expecting contractors to come and finish the wall-paper-hanging in their rather cramped-looking mansion. The husband is annoyed because he can’t go into the living room (everything is being boxed up for the work to be done) and his breakfast is late). The wife is still in her bedclothes, and she and the maid work hard at getting things ready before the arrival of the contractors. These, we see, are Charlie Chaplin and his boss Charles Inslee, who is “driving” Chaplin as a kind of rickshaw-rider with all of their equipment piled into an oversized cart. After several near-misses with streetcars, Charlie manages to get the contraption up the hill to the house. Then, of course, they proceed to ruin the room they are meant to be working on, getting glue and paper everywhere. Meanwhile, Charlie flirts with the maid and tells her his sad life story. Then, he wrecks her room as well for good measure. Now, a mysterious fop (Leo White) shows up and presents flowers to the wife, who tries to cover for him, claiming he’s one of the workers. The husband, still suspicious finds the flowers with Charlie and goes for his gun. He shoots wildly, chasing the gigolo around the house until he hits a gas line and makes the oven explode. The household is covered in rubble, Charlie decided to hide out in the oven.

Work4My own reaction to this movie, which came out after “By the Sea,” is that it was a bit of a step back towards the sympathy and subtlety of “The Tramp,” while still full of classic slapstick gags. The situation of workers in the domestic setting is a classic one for physical comedy, and has been done dozens of times. The situation is inherently invasive, and often while the work proceeds, one’s house begins to look like a disaster zone and one wonders if it will ever be put right. Opportunities for physical mishaps abound. Many of us live in fear of having contractors like these, and that’s part of where the everyman humor of the situation is so recognizable. One good bit that stood out to me was when the wife realized that she had left the good silver out in the room where Charlie & Charlie are working, and rushes in to put it in the safe. They look at each other, and take out their pocket watches, carefully placing them in Chaplin’s pocket and then sealing it shut with a safety pin. A great working-class comeuppance to middle class snobbery. The sequence in which Inslee drives Chaplin like a mule has also been suggested to have class war implications vis-à-vis management and labor.

Work2This time I’d also like to take a moment to look at contemporary reactions. This quote is from Variety, review by Sime Silverman: “This Essanay release of the Charlie Chaplin picture for this week is Work in two reels. It is the usual Chaplin work of late, mussy, messy, and dirty. Chaplin has found that the public will stand for his picture comedy of the worst kind, and he is giving them the worst kind, although as an excellent pantomimist, with a reserve of decent comedy, Chaplin must have decided the time to put his other brand upon the screen is when his present style of ‘humor’ shall have ceased to be in demand. The Censor Board is passing matter in the Chaplin films that could not possibly get by in other pictures. Never anything dirtier was placed upon the screen than Chaplin’s ‘Tramp,’ and while this may have been objected to by the censors, it merely taught Chaplin what to avoid and how far to go. Work, however, is not nearly so offensive excepting that it is disgusting at many points, but since the audience will laugh there is no real cause for complaint.” That’s quite the review! Incidentally, Silverman continued to review Chaplin in this vein, but gradually mellowed and came to admit that some of his work was good.

Dirty? Disgusting?

Dirty? Disgusting?

Because I’d read the review, I kept an eye out for “dirty” and “disgusting” parts to the film. It is dirty, in the sense that a lot of people get slapped with glue or get some other kind of mess on them. But disgusting? Like I said, the wife runs around in her nightgown and she seems to have a lover who visits in the middle of the day. Oh, and Chaplin sits on a bed with Edna while telling her of his tough life. I guess that could be disgusting? I don’t know, I’m trying to understand the mores of the time, but I’m not sure I quite get why the Censor Board had let something unusual pass here, compared to the racy melodramas of Cecil B. DeMille, for example.

Work3

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Charles Inslee, Billy Armstrong, Marta Golden, Leo White

Run Time: 29 Min

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

A Jitney Elopement (1915)

Jitney_Elopement_(poster)Released only days before “The Tramp,” this Essanay comedy starring Charlie Chaplin seems to show him starting to get his bearings after a few middling efforts at the new studio. While it may not – quite – be classic on the same level as the better-known release, it definitely shows both his developing directorial talents and his natural comedic ability.

Jitney Elopement2Frequent co-star Edna Purviance is in a quandary. Her father is determined to marry her to an impoverished French nobleman (who appears in the Intertitles as “Count Chloride du Lime” or sometimes “de Lime”). She secretly loves Charlie, though it is unclear how the two met, and requests him to “rescue” her. He immediately goes to the front door and tells the butler to announce him as the Count! This is enough to get him a free drink and an opportunity to swipe cigars, and then the father invites him to dine with him and his daughter. At this point things start going wrong. Charlie clearly lacks the social graces, accidentally puts a sugar cube in his soup, eats beans off the edge of his knife, and has a very difficult time cutting his meat. As coffee is served, the “real” Count (who looks every bit the imposter as well) turns up, and the father angrily turns Charlie out. The Count takes Edna out to the park to try to woo her despite her obvious lack of enthusiasm, and Charlie finds them there. A slapstick running battle now breaks out, involving Charlie, the Count, Edna’s father, and two dopey policemen who jump out of the bushes at a comic moment. Having emerged more or less victorious, Charlie takes Edna down to the road and makes off with her and the Count’s car (the “Jitney” of the title). The father and Count pursue in another vehicle, and another madcap chase begins. It ends with one car going into the Bay, and the lovers kissing discreetly in the land-bound survivor.

Jitney ElopementThis movie was shot in San Francisco, and the park used is recognizably Golden Gate. During the car chase, anyone who has been to the beach at Golden Gate will recognize the windmills seen in the background of the car chase. What’s more fascinating is the dirt roads, apparently in that same vicinity, and the paucity of buildings alongside them. This is less than ten years after the 1906 Earthquake, of course, but I don’t think the under-developed look is due to lack of reconstruction. It appears that the area was still sparsely populated at this time. The Jitney is today mostly associated with early motorized taxicab operations, but this one appears to belong to the Count as a personal-use vehicle. Much of the humor of the chase comes from Charlie’s needing to get out and crank it up every now and again.

Jitney Elopement1Technically, the movie again confirms the development of Chaplin’s standards after he left Keystone studios. The camera is frequently placed much closer, so that the audience can plainly see Charlie’s and the other actor’s faces, not necessarily their full bodies. In fact, the camera is closer throughout much of this movie than in “The Birth of a Nation” or other 1915 movies praised for their innovations. The editing is also particularly good, and keeps the high speed chase working well. Cutaways sometimes make use of reaction shots, as when the two cops attempt to stop the Jitney by holding a rope across its path and are dragged behind it. We see most of this through Charlie’s reactions, only catching the beginning and end of the action. The scene of the dinner reminds me of gags Charlie would use later, for example in “The Gold Rush” (there are no dancing bread rolls, however). Edna isn’t quite up to Mabel Normand’s level as a leading lady, for me, though. She mostly looks on as Charlie and her father fight, and only seems to follow Charlie’s lead rather than taking action for herself.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Ernest Van Pelt, Leo White, Lloyd Bacon, Bud Jamison

Run Time: 26 Min

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

His New Job (1915)

His_New_JobFor his first movie at Essanay studios, Charlie Chaplin decided to lampoon Keystone Studios and have a bit of an in-joke for his fans with the title. He was already being paid better, given more creative freedom, and working in a longer format, but apparently the cold weather of Chicago in January didn’t agree with him, and he soon relocated back to California to resume working there.

His_New_Job1In this movie, Charlie shows up for “open auditions at Lodestone studios,” looking for extra work. He flirts with an aspiring actress, feuds with the (male) production assistant organizing the interviews, and knocks out fellow-extra-wannabe Ben Turpin several times. He manages to get hired, in spite of some amusing confusion with the studio head’s hearing aid, and goes over to the set, spoiling a shot. To get rid of him, the director sends him over to work with the carpenter, leading to the usual physical comedy with board and mallets, etc. Then the director fires one of the uniformed actors and tells Charlie to get a costume. He can’t find one, so he borrows one from the absent star’s dressing room. Then he proceeds to foul up several scenes, bending his sword out of shape, nearly knocking over the set, and tearing the female star’s dress. Finally, the star shows up and find him in his costume, leading to a Keystone-style confrontation with him, the carpenter, the director, Ben Turpin, and Charlie. Guess who wins?

His New Job1As we might expect, this first effort in an unfamiliar studio is lighter than the better work Charlie would go on to during 1915, but it already shows some improvements. Charlie’s character is still quick to violence and mayhem, but he’s already developing that playful shrug that would become his sympathetic gesture. The gags are better developed and there’s a bit more running humor involved. Still, it’s not much above “The Masquerader” or “A Film Johnnie,” and lacks some of the hooks that make those films so memorable (like cross-dressing and seeing the inner workings of Keystone studios). There are some interesting tracking shots, mostly used to take the audience “into” the scenes Charlie is ostensibly shooting from behind the camera, and one tracking-backward shot to follow him and the female lead as they walk up-set. There are no real close-ups, and we don’t even get a good look at Turpin’s trademark crossed-eyes. The editing is pretty standard for the time as well, with just a bit of cross-cutting to get characters into the same scene together. Apparently, Gloria Swanson auditioned for the film (she would have been just fifteen at the time), but Charlie wasn’t impressed, so she was relegated to playing a typist in the background.

His New JobDirector: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Ben Turpin, Leo White, Robert Bolder, Gloria Swanson

Run Time: 30 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music, but 10 minutes short)

In the Park (1915)

In_the_Park_(poster)This Charlie Chaplin film returns to the three critical Keystone elements of “a girl, a park, and a policeman.” In fact, it seems so much like a deliberate send-up of Chaplin’s work at Keystone studios that I wonder whether someone at Essanay asked him to make a movie “like” the ones that had launched his popularity. Charlie wanders around a park, running into various people and getting into fights or stealing from them, but the most important are Edna Purviance and Bud Jamison, a couple out in the park because Edna the nursemaid has brought her infant charges out for some sun. Charlie manages to flirt with Edna, then, after stealing a purse from a fellow vagrant thief, sells it to Bud, only to take it back and give it to Edna as a gift. At various points, we get the classic three-frame editing in which characters in frame one throw bricks at someone in frame two, who ducks and allows the brick to sail into frame three and hit someone. The policeman eventually locates the purse’s original owner but Charlie first diverts blame to Jamison, then boots both of them into the lake.

In_the_Park_(1915)Because this movie so closely resembles its Keystone models, there’s not a lot of chance to Charlie to develop his character here. Still, his “Little Tramp” comes across as somewhat more sympathetic simply due to the less frenetic pace of the film. As he steals the purse from an unconscious Jamison at one point, he makes a kind of shrugging movement with his body that seems to say “I know it’s wrong, but what can I do?” This kind of defines the direction he’s taking the character this year. He seems to genuinely enjoy his exchanges with Edna, and also evinces a kind of shy surprise when she is responsive to his advances. Other characters get more chance to elaborate as well, particularly an “elegant masher” played by Leo White, who is romancing the original owner of the purse, and vows to commit suicide when she loses interest in him after the theft. The “suicide” may have helped inspire Harold Lloyd when he made “Haunted Spooks” (see Harold’s idea of funny suicide in this gif at Movies Silently).

In_The_Park_(Charlie_Chaplin)Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Bud Jamison, Leo White, Billy Armstrong, Ernest van Pelt.

Run Time: 15 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Champion (1915)

Champion_1915Movies and boxing have gone together since the birth of American cinema. Boxing also lends itself to precisely the kind of physical comedy associated with slapstick, so it’s no surprise that Charlie Chaplin returned to the theme more than once in his career. The first time was in “The Knockout,” which is really a Fatty Arbuckle film that Charlie appeared in as a supporting character, but because of his higher name value, it tends to be associated with Charlie instead (See Silentology for another discussion of “The Knockout”). Less than a year later, and at another studio, Charlie made his first appearance as a headliner in a boxing comedy.

Champion1Slightly longer, “The Champion” has a somewhat simpler plot than “The Knockout.” We open on Charlie with a pet bulldog, apparently down on his heels, but sharing a hot dog with his companion. A bit later, Charlie finds a “good luck” horseshoe just as he passes Spike Dugan’s (Ernest van Pelt) training quarters, which is advertising for a boxing partner “who can take a punch.” After watching others lose, Charlie puts the horseshoe in his glove and wins. The trainer prepares Charlie to fight the world champion, Bob Uppercut, played by Bud Jamison, who still seems to me to be filling Mack Swain’s shoes. A gambler (Leo White) wants Charlie to throw the fight, but Charlie knocks him out and takes his money anyway. He and the trainer’s daughter (Edna Purviance, once again, who seems to be dressing as a boy to sneak into the fights as Minta Durfee did in “The Knockout”) meet and fall in love. At the big fight, Ben Turpin takes on Charlie’s former role as the referee, and winds up getting hit about as often as the fighters. Broncho Billy Anderson, co-owner of Essanay Studios, is rumored to be in the fight audience, but I didn’t spot him based on the one Broncho Billy movie I’ve been able to see so far.

Champion2The opening of the movie, with Charlie and the dog, gives us a chance to identify with the “Little Tramp” more than we ever did when he was at Keystone, and, indeed, the character is cuter and more appealing, even if he is cheating at boxing and apparently robbing gamblers. The longer run time seemed to be handled better in this movie than in “A Night Out,” in part because the whole “training” storyline obviously points to a climax in the ring. Once we get there, all the stops are pulled out and ever single gag you can think of is thrown in. Each time the fighters go at it, something different happens. I was delightedly surprised, for example, when they “hugged” each other and danced, rather than hitting. Still, where “The Knockout” confuses people with so many things going in rapid-fire, “The Champion” at times seems drawn-out, with the gags getting in the way of forward motion of the plot.

Champion5

Shall we dance?

In terms of film making, this movie is still at a fairly simple level. Scenes are generally taken from a straight-on camera angle with little internal cutting. Occasionally, close-ups are used to emphasize Charlie’s emotional state. Cross-cutting, between the audience and the boxing ring, helps to liven up the fight sequence. All of the actors, except Edna, get a chance to show off their athleticism, and the dog puts in a good performance as well, attacking Jamison and biting the seat of his pants at a critical moment. During the “love scenes,” Charlie holds a large jug of beer up to insure Edna and him some privacy.

ChampionDirector: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Bud Jamison, Ben Turpin, Leo White, Ernest van Pelt, Broncho Billy Anderson, Lloyd Bacon

Run Time: 33 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

A Night Out (1915)

Night OutThis is one of the early films Charlie Chaplin made at Essanay Studios during his year there after he left Keystone. It has many of the familiar elements from Keystone – men with silly facial hair, women who seem to enjoy flirting with transients, a dull-witted policeman, a large jealous husband, hotels and bar rooms, and a world populated with people with a propensity for solving problems with physical violence – but has more measured timing and use of the individual gags, plus a much longer run time than most of the shorts he did there.

Night Out4To the degree that there is a plot, it concerns Charlie and his drinking buddy Ben Turpin, who apparently are out on the town for a while before the movie starts because by the time it does they are both staggering drunk. They make their way to a restaurant, where they get into fights with various patrons and ultimately are thrown out by the large headwaiter (played by Bud Jamison, who is doing his best to be Mack Swain). The two pals decide to get a room and sleep it off, and, after multiple pratfalls, Ben Turpin winds up in his bed, and Charlie winds up in a room with Edna Purviance (this was her first appearance in a Chaplin film, but they would work and sleep together for the next eight years). Then her husband comes home, and, of course, it’s Bud Jamison! So, Charlie packs up his pajamas and goes to another hotel, but he’s too drunk to sign the register and winds up on a park bench. Turpin wakes up alone and the desk clerk insists he pay since Charlie already left. He finds Charlie on the park bench, who replies to his request for rent money with several blows to the head with a brick. Meanwhile, some issue has come up at the original hotel with the headwaiter that involves holes being cut in his handkerchiefs, so they move to the second hotel. Now, Charlie heads back there and goes through an elaborate getting-ready-for-bed ritual that involves throwing his trousers out the window and spreading toothpaste on his slippers. Meanwhile, Edna has been playing with a dog in her room (across from Charlie’s, of course) and the dog runs under Charlie’s bed, where she follows it. Charlie comes out and discovers a girl under his bed, to some apparent glee, until she says something about her husband coming back and he looks out the door and sees Jamison again. They try to sneak her back into the room, but it’s no good, Charlie is caught and chased, and winds up going out a window. Ultimately, Turpin finds him again and they fight, ending with Charlie getting drenched in a bathtub.

Night Out1I’m not sure if it was just me or if Charlie was still getting used to the longer format, but this movie felt more like three or four short movies stitched together than like a cohesive longer plot. At about six minutes in, I had laughed at least as many times as I have at any Keystone, but I was already feeling like it could wrap up and be fine. At fourteen minutes in (the length of the average one-reeler), I was really ready for it to be done. By the end, it seemed actually too long, even though the gags and the falls were entirely up to snuff. One thing Charlie did do was take the time to elaborate some of his gags, which he wouldn’t have done at the faster pace. For example there’s a sequence in the hotel room where Charlie has drunkenly confused the phone with a water dispenser, and keeps trying to pour into his cup from it. That’s the sort of little touch that rarely made it into a Keystone. On the whole, though, it isn’t up to the level of later “feature-length” work like “Burlesque on Carmen,” nor even the sustained zaniness of “The Tramp.” If you like Keystone Chaplin well enough to sit still for half an hour, then this will work for you, maybe even better than watching three Keystones would, but it still seemed to me to be a bit rough around the edges.

Night Out2Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Ben Turpin, Edna Purviance, Bud Jamison, Leo White

Run Time: 33 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Tramp (1915)

shorts-marion

This is my contribution to the Shorts Blogathon being hosted by Movies Silently. Take a look at what the other bloggers have contributed to this event, especially if you enjoy shorter movies. (Ironically, at over 26 minutes, this is the longest movie I’ve written about in a week – but it still counts!)

I will begin with a hazy anecdote. If I remember correctly, this was the first silent movie I ever saw. I remember a friend’s birthday party, a 16mm projector, and an adult who was very excited about showing Charlie Chaplin films to small children. Funny enough, I don’t remember whether we laughed out loud or sat in confused silence. I do remember feeling sad at the ending.

The_Tramp_(film)

And that, at least, was an appropriate reaction, because “The Tramp,” famously, is where Chaplin’s famous character began to show some sympathetic traits, and to represent the “little man” in his struggle to survive in a world he doesn’t fit in to. Previous Chaplins often made the Little Tramp out to be more aggressive, somewhat less appealing, or drunkenly foolish. There would sometimes be moments of sympathy, but these would often be undercut by the motives of revenge or the general chaos of the slapstick situation. The Little Tramp we see in “The Tramp” is far more human and easier to identify with, even if one wonders how long it’s been since he showered and whether inviting him into the house is such a good idea.

The story begins with Charlie walking along a roadside, being knocked over as some cars go by, then pulling out a whisk broom from his pocket to dust himself off, to good comedic effect. Already, we get the sense of a man who is a) homeless and b) eccentric, as well as his inability to cope with the modern world, in the form of the automobiles. Soon, he encounters Edna Purviance, a farmer’s daughter, who is being set upon by a robber, who wants to take the money she got from her father to go to market. Charlie, wielding his hobo’s bindle, is able to drive the man off and protect her. But, it turns out that there are two other robbers nearby, each a bit taller and meaner-looking than the last. Charlie takes them out one at a time, then accidentally sits in their campfire, and must run about in search of water to put out his flaming pants. The slapstick here is fast and thick, with only one intertitle interrupting the action, to make sure we know that the robbers’ motive is money, not something more salacious.

Purviance and Chaplin were said to be romantically involved at the time (they never married, which may have been the best thing all around, given how Charlie’s marriages tended to go badly). Their apparent attraction for each other, particularly his for her, helps drive the movie forward. The Little Tramp likes this girl, and is more interested in her than her money. That’s the only motivation we need to understand his actions for the duration of the film, and it’s entirely believable. We see them at mid-shot as each is introduced, giving us a chance to feel close to them, but most of the acting is broad and farcical, so we don’t need, or get, intense close-ups on faces. This is not high drama, but pure comedy.

Tramp1

Chaplin returns with the girl to the farm, and her father offers him a job. It’s clear that Charlie isn’t used to physical labor, and knows nothing about farms or farm animals, but he takes the job to be close to the girl. He is a menace to the father and the farm-hand, especially when he has dangerous devices like pitchforks, candles, or heavy bags of flour in his hand. He is completely clueless how to milk a cow (and it does take a bit of expertise, speaking as a city-kid who has learned the skill), and has a tendency to break chicken eggs so that they run down his leg, or someone else’s face.

This sequence, which I’ll call the “Second Act” for the sake of simple shorthand, is pure slapstick. We only have a brief scene with Charlie and the girl together, and she seems to want him to succeed, but doesn’t offer more than encouragement. He is lucky not to get fired or beaten up with all the times he inadvertently injures his boss and his co-worker. The camera has moved out to a standard stage distance, generally showing the full body of the actor and some space to either side, but, as with the old Keystones, the different sets would interact, so that a bag of flour thrown from one set is bound to crash into someone in the set next door or below. The editing is critical here, and I think Charlie, or his editor at Essanay, improves the on pacing that Keystone had established. Things are just fast enough to be funny, and they come thick and fast enough to keep the funny building, pausing only when the audience needs a break from laughing so much.

Tramp_poster

In the “Third Act,” the robbers show up on the farm and hold Charlie up with a gun, insisting that he help with their planned heist of the joint. Charlie agrees. He’s no hero, at least not to the point that he’ll get shot to prove a point. Once he’s in his bedroom, he sees to it that there’s a ladder up to his window, and he finds a large mallet to fight the robbers. After some more erroneous comedy pratfalls with the farmer and the farmhand, the fight begins in earnest. Charlie saves the farm and the farmer gets his shotgun and drives off the terrified robbers. This sequence follows the standards now established, and we don’t see the girl again until after it’s all over. Note that, although Charlie and his co-worker are going to bed (and carrying a candle), there’s no effort to show night time through the lighting. It was all shot in broad daylight, which makes it possible for the audience to see everything that happens and keep track of who hits who, even though the characters are often confused about this.

The final piece, which I’ll call an “Epilogue” rather than a 4th Act, is where the girl’s handsome boyfriend shows up, and Charlie’s heart is broken. He writes a tearful and poorly-spelled note, and goes off to seek his fortune elsewhere. Once on the road, however, he breaks into a jaunty walk that suggests he’s already gotten over her and accepted his lot in life, and the freedom that comes with it. This is where he belongs.

Every source I’ve read online and off identifies the character who shows up at the end as “Edna’s fiancé,” so I guess he is, but it struck me as I watched that no character ever confirms this. It could be the classic comedy situation of the long-lost brother or cousin who is mistaken for a boyfriend. Just a personal observation, I don’t know that it changes anything about the movie.

This warning from Essanay Studios about pirated Chaplin films appeared in Moving Picture World, Oct, 16 1915.

This warning from Essanay Studios about pirated Chaplin films appeared in Moving Picture World, Oct, 16 1915.

By the end of 1914, Charlie Chaplin was known in Nickelodeons all over the US and was becoming a major star. The year 1915, though, was what really made him. This is the year that his name and image became known all over the world, and people wanted all the Chaplin they could get. He was so popular that people started imitating him, with various degrees of success, and certain shadier distributors started duping and re-editing his old movies with new titles to try to get in on the profit. Soon the concept of a “genuine Chaplin” was important to exhibitors, who wanted to keep their Chaplin-obsessed patrons happy. This movie was a big part of starting the craze.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Camera: Harry Ensign

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Lloyd Bacon, Leo White, Bud Jamison, Ernest Van Pelt

Run Time: 26 Min, 40 seconds

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

Burlesque on Carmen (1915)

Burlesque on carmen

I’m going a bit backward, reviewing this one now, since it was actually the last movie Charlie Chaplin made in 1915, but since I just did the DeMille “Carmen” last night, it’s appropriate. So far as Chaplin goes, the story is this: at the beginning of 1914, he met Mack Sennett and signed up with Keystone, rapidly producing a few dozen shorts and “Tillie’s Punctured Romance” and becoming a star in the process. At the end of the year, he demanded a raise to $1000, which is a lot more than I make, but not considered all that much for a movie star nowadays. Sennett refused him, so he signed with Essanay, who came up with the money and gave him even better exposure. By the end of that year, he was a worldwide mega-star (I just read a letter in the “Moving Picture World” today from South Africa, talking about how much they all loved him there), and wanted still more money. Once again, Essanay refused the raise, so he signed with Mutual for ten times as much. But before his Essanay contract ran out, he made this spoof of the popular opera/novel/movie(s).

 Burlesque_on_Carmen_Film_Daily_1919

So how is it? In comparison to Chaplin’s Keystone work, it’s leaps and bounds ahead. The story is more complicated, his style is more honed, and there’s more room for his co-stars to get in some good parts. The filmmaking of 1915, as I’ve mentioned several times this year, is much closer to what we expect in a modern film, and I think there’s actually more use of close-ups and multiple shots within scenes than we saw in DeMille’s version. The plot is basically a speeded-up version of that one, with gestures, costumes, and title cards borrowed or deliberately sent up at several points. Edna Purviance, who plays Carmen, is perfect, both as a compliment to Farrar’s sophisticated yet bestial sensuality, and as a skilled comedienne with a sense of timing to match Chaplin’s. Chaplin is more or less doing his “Little Tramp” character in a uniform here, and in the year since he left Keystone, he’s made that character more sympathetic and more believable. A running gag involves the fact that his full-size sword sheath contains only a tiny dagger, which he tends to whip out at inopportune moments. No Freudian humor here or anything. I’m looking forward to getting fully caught up with Chaplin’s Essanay career as the year progresses.

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Leo White, John Rand

Run Time: 31 Min, 24 secs

You can watch it for free: here (Sorry, no music)