The Sunday Intertitle: Two Reels of Shoving

Officially, one Joseph Maddern may have been the director of TWENTY MINUTES OF LOVE, but sources agree that Chaplin was in charge this time. Being a prick to Mabel Normand had paid off. The title seems quite metamodern, except that the surviving film is just over ten minutes.

Maddern is a curious figure: of his six short film credits, three are documentaries. Five were made in this year of grace 1914, and the sixth ten years later. What was he doing in-between-times?

The setting is Echo Park, a kind of urban Forest of Arden with spooning lovers behind every leaf. Here, Chaplin wanders disconsolate, not made for loving, a bitter ironist when faced with the canoodling of strangers. In fact, he begins with what is sometimes erroneously called “pantomime,” satirising by gesture, for the camera’s benefit, the behaviour of park bench amorists. I hate this kind of rubbish, and I can’t wait for Chaplin, and the movies, to grow out of it. His sly awareness of us watching is much subtler in later films, and he’s the only one generally allowed to do it.

There are two kinds of activity on display: snogging and pickpocketry. Chaplin specialises in the latter. So his character is on the make: this is good. Though in later movies his larceny is generally confined to foodstuffs, not fob watches. Dishonesty is permissible to him only when it relates to basic survival. At the start of THE CIRCUS he’s stealing food from a baby, but this is understandable, even sympathetic, the way he does it. To provoke the attentions of the law, he must be framed by a real criminal.

The second young lover, and the second pickpocket, is apparently Chester Conklin, unrecognizable without his cookie-duster.

There’s an actual quite good plot twist when Charlie, desperate not to be caught with the watch he stole from Conklin, ties to sell it to a stranger, who turns out to be the guy Conklin originally stole it from.

At 8:45, a historic moment: Chaplin kicks a man (Conklin) up the arse for the first time on screen (I believe). It’s a damned good kick, too, reduces the receiver to a supine jelly. But moments of triumph are fleeting in this life: 8 seconds later he is rendered unconscious by Conklin’s powerful slap. It’s so often the way.

But this, too, will pass, at 18 fps. Revenge is soon Charlie’s: with the entire cast shoved or kicked into Echo Lake, there to splash about helplessly in the waist-high shallows, Charlie walks off with the girl. Or *A* girl, anyway. Possible proof that the actor is now in charge of his own movies?

4 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Two Reels of Shoving”

  1. loved reading this :)

  2. Maybe the most appealing thing about these park-bench Keystones is that you can believe they were totally improvised. It’s a nice fantasy that a handful of youngsters could load up a couple of cars, drive to the park and wing a comedy.

    That first couple got my attention. The pretty girl is fearlessly broad in her necking, with only moments of prim haughtiness when Charlie is right next to her. Perhaps she’s going big to compete with her partner’s outrageous costume. Tight pants and boots — and he looks pantless, or at least a bit provocative, when raising his left leg across.

    Also liked how the pickpocket goes back to check his still-dozing victim, just in case the watch found its way home.

    There’s a Charlie and Mabel pairing I can’t recall the title of, but it opens with a long bit of the two of them standing and being flirty. The rejected suitor sneaks up behind and hits each of them when nobody is looking, Of course this leads to Charlie and Mabel slugging each other. Charlie came round to a ragged chivalry, but Kerr points out it didn’t happen until he had a gentler leading lady.

  3. The Mabel one you cite sounds like The Fatal Mallet. And yes, Mabel always wants to be in the thick of the slapstick. The rest of the women come in for the same rough treatment for several films to come, so I’m not sure if the removal of Mabel from the equation is key. Chaplin evolved the Tramp, and his knockabout, in the direction of less viciousness even during the last part of 1914, and some of the later Mabels have way less roughhousing.

    I’m also not sure if Kerr was able to do what we can do so easily: run nearly all the shorts in sequence. A number were lost when he was writing, and I don’t know what archival access he had. But I love his book.

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