The Sunday Intertitle: Fudge Party

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This isn’t what it looks like! The chap in the bowler is not Chaplin, he’s Billy West, best-known and often considered most skilled of a bandwagon-full of Chaplin impersonators plying their piteous trade in the teens and early twenties, capitalizing on the Little Fellow’s sole conspicuous weakness –unlike his baggy-panted plagiarists, he was only one man. Since Chaplin couldn’t supply enough product to keep the public laughing non-stop every minute of the day, armies of aspirant clowns picked up canes and glued on moustaches (even Stan Laurel and Chaplin’s own brother Sydney are supposed to have gotten in on the act, while the most blatant imitator styled himself Kaplan and got sued by his prototype). West copies some of Chaplin’s mannerisms and invents others in keeping with his general aristocratic manner, but HE’S IN AGAIN isn’t actually very funny…

The “plot” in which West continually gains readmission to a dance hall/beer hall, hinges on repetition, and West clanks through his routines and subroutines like a robot waiter from SLEEPER, the whole thing illustrating Henri Bergson’s theories about the nature of comedy being mechanical. But the human Chaplin transformed into a jerking machine, a clockwork orange, in MODERN TIMES is funny — there’s the absurd confluence of the organic and mechanical of which Bergson wrote — West’s precise mimicry excludes the human element altogether and has all the joie de vivre of an assembly line.

The burly eyebrows on the left isn’t Eric Campbell, of course, but another impersonator (even Chaplin’s supporting players are mimicked!), Babe Hardy, later more famous as Oliver.

Also appearing is the film’s director, Chas. Parrot, who would also become better known under another name, that of Charley Chase.

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I have no idea what this means. Probably filthy.

And West squeezes in one more impersonation, dragging up as exotic dancer Beda Thara…

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2 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Fudge Party”

  1. As I understand it, Laurel had a vaudeville act called “The Keystone Trio” in which he channeled Chaplin and his partners impersonated Fred Mace and Mabel Normand. Don’t think he ever mimicked Chaplin’s appearance onscreen; his pre-Hardy characters tended to be more wild and abusive than the little tramp. Laurel, of course, understudied Chaplin on the Karno tour.

    Don’t know if Syd ever did a direct imitation. He certainly traded on the name and drew on the same Karno bag of tricks, but he had his own signature mustache. Check out Syd’s turn in “Charley’s Aunt”, equal parts bland romantic lead in a dinner jacket and Keystone acrobat in drag. One account says that Syd simply walked away from his onscreen career when a messy lawsuit loomed. He went on a long world tour, and came home to continue handling Charlie’s career.

    Harold Lloyd cheerfully described his “Lonesome Luke” as a direct Chaplin steal, the disguising twist being his clothes were too small where Chaplin’s were baggy. Also, Luke seemed to be wearing TWO Chaplin mustaches.

  2. Syd wasn’t sued, but he fled Britain after being accused of raping and part-cannibalising a young actress.

    He was certainly a skilled comic, unlike the OTHER Chaplin half-brother, who couldn’t act at all, but tried.

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