Archive for September 6, 2020

The Sunday Intertitle: Down & Out in Beverly Hills

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 6, 2020 by dcairns

Somehow I had never watched this, MABEL’S STRANGE PREDICAMENT (1914), the first film for which Chaplin donned his tramp costume, having become seduced by the more celebrated KID AUTO RACES AT VENICE, the first Chaplin-tramp film RELEASED.

This one is directed by Mabel Normand herself, and affords Chaplin lots of funny business — he’s still practically playing the villain, as he had been in MAKING A LIVING, and the tramp is a drunken lout. He’s also wearing what looks like old-age make-up — not quite Nakadai in RAN, but verging on it. Well, Mack Sennett had worried that he was too young. The ‘tache seems a little bigger, too. All this has settled down into the familiar chalky face with toothbrush by the time of KID AUTO (probably a few days later).

Amazing to see this looking so sharp (the different in maquillage wouldn’t have been noticable in the kind of dupey copies circulating on VHS. Even the print damage is sharp — clusters of lumious snowballs flashing up like muzzle-flashes, so that when Mabel throws a ball for her dog, the poor thing’s confused and doesn’t know what to chase.

Surprisingly coherent farce plot — the typical Keystone looseness is mainly the result of Chaplin being given lots of extraneous business, but it’s magnificently played. A spitoon proves handy. There’s a great moment near the end where the hero shoves him back onto a chair and Chaplin, finding himself unexpectedly seated, has a look around. The performance is full of detail like that, ALIVE with it.

There’s a lot of telegraphy — Mabel signalling to the audience what just happened in a previous scene — and she keeps up a running commentary for the lipreaders amongst you — Chaplin will address the camera too, but not to help with the plot. He just wants to let us know he knows we’re there, and to enlist us as co-conspirators. Still to figure out when he stops doing this — pretty late, I’d say. In fact he’ll still shoot us the occasional look right into the talkies. There’s a good gloat from the dock in MONSIEUR VERDOUX.