In Your Face, Elmo Lincoln!

Gordon Griffith was the first screen Tarzan, in the 1918 TARZAN OF THE APES — he plays Tarzan as a boy, before Elmo steps into the loincloth. He’s also featured in THE STAR BOARDER (1914), Chaplin’s 10th film as actor, in a key role.

George Nichols directs again, but Chaplin seems to be exerting more control. His introduction here is really good. Flat on his back in bed, his hat and cane (which have returned, after being sadly absent in CRUEL, CRUEL LOVE) hung at various points around the room. There’s almost an awareness that these are iconic emblems of a famous character. He’s smoking. He rouses himself — slowly. This is daring stuff for Keystone, the perpetual motion company. But Chaplin knows how to get the audience’s interest, having done it ruthlessly on stage, and he at least suspects that the same principles apply in film.

The Chaplin costume is very slightly neater here since he’s not a hobo. But it still has all the recognizable features. His necktie having tried out being stripey, has changed its mind again and become a skinny black ribbon hung limply from an erect collar.

The eating scene is a mess — the classic Keystone clusterfuck of busy clowns, all trying to pull focus at once. Particularly egregious mugging to camera from Edgar Kennedy, screen right, seething in a voluminous false moustache. Never knowingly underplayed.

Minta Durfee is playing Mrs. Kennedy, the landlady who flirts with Charlie (well, if you were married to Edgar Kennedy…) It’s a rare character part for her. She’s usually dependable because she concentrates on reacting to co-stars and situations rather than trying to silently explain the plot to the audience, like a benshi imprisoned onscreen.

A game of tennis with the landlady. Because. Since Charlie isn’t, it seems, drunk here, it’s strange that he’s so uncoordinated, but we are learning that that the Tramp character can play people who are not tramps, do not carry their money in an old sock, etc. This will be useful stuff to grasp, going forward. There are a huge number of Chaplin shorts to be made based around the simple fact of him having a new job.

(Chaplin became a very keen tennis player in real life — I don’t know if he’d begun yet. I imagine he was very COMPETITIVE about it. Our tennis-playing directors — Chaplin and Lester — seem to live to ripe old ages. Richard Linklater may be around a long time too, as he is likewise an enthusiast of the racquet.)

Standing against some kind of wall of foliage, CC touches Minta’s breast with his stick. It’s interesting that he hasn’t used his cane much so far in his career, but clearly considers it an essential part of the character. Not for this purpose, though.

Tiny Tarzan photographs CC and Minta with his Box Brownie or whatever it is. A whole series of incriminating pictures are then taken of both the Kennedys. Like the young Mark Lewis in PEEPING TOM, he is an incipient scoptophiliac. In the pantry, Chaplin checks to see if he’s hungry by looking down into his trousers. Then he gets pissed up on booze. At last, the inevitable drunk scene! But Chaplin, perhaps hurried, forgets to do much drunk acting. The beer seems to have made him more agile and competent, if anything, though he does sit on a pie. But that’s no evidence of intoxication, we all do that.

At the climax, Charlie is once more part of an audience at a picture show, as Tiny Tarzan, without the benefit of going to a lab or chemist’s, is somehow able to project his slides of the day’s debauchery. Does this cause a big fight? It does.

Chaplin, colliding with the slideshow screen, becomes ensheeted. Tiny Tarzan gets a spanking. Edgar Kennedy pushes Charlie through a tabletop. Charlie bites Edgar’s thigh. Both fall unconscious.

Yes, well that does seem like a satisfying dramatic resolution so let’s suddenly stop the picture.

*

And — no, we’re not actually in Pordenone, but we’re attending the Silent Film Festival virtually — will post on it shortly.

4 Responses to “In Your Face, Elmo Lincoln!”

  1. I can’t recall the writer, but have remembered one account of playing tennis with CC: the memoirist recalled Charlie was a wildly active participant, lunging and leaping, taking every opportunity to jump as high as possible, sometimes without much reference to the ball. He concluded Charlie was captivated by the shadows he was casting– enjoying a spectacle as close to modern dance as he could make for himself. That image of self-delighting grace changed the way I watched Chaplin perform.

  2. chris schneider Says:

    I’m reminded of a favorite story of W.S. Gilbert, director, reprimanding performer George Grossmith for inappropriate silliness onstage.

    Grossmith: “But I got a big laugh!”
    Gilbert: “So you would if you sat on a pork pie.”

    I always think of this when I watch Kristen Chenoweth perform “Glitter And Be Gay.” It’s as if there’s literally nothing she would not do in order to get a laugh.

  3. bensondonald Says:

    Somewhere between this and THE CAMERAMAN, with a touch of meta:

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