Doobugle of Greenland

Charlie with Mabel again, directed by Mabel again — or maybe co-directing WITH Mabel — this was released nine days after MABEL AT THE WHEEL, with TWENTY MINUTES OF LOVE slotted in between. Keystone are really churning them out — and remember, they have other stars working at the same time, Arbuckle and so on. I reckon these films were mostly shot in a day, maybe two days for a two-reeler like this. And “written” in an hour. And the editing is largely a matter of selecting the preferred takes from a small number filmed, cutting off the slates, and doing the titles. So you could “easily” make two a week.

Despite the fact that Chaplin had earlier refused to work for Mabel as director, she was the most talented director he’d had — see her WON IN A CUPBOARD for bits of visual experimentation otherwise unheard-of at Sennett’s studio. And this is in many ways his best film yet.

We meet Charlie, the world’s worst waiter, working in a rowdy dive. He spills the food he’s serving all over the floor, quite carelessly, then slips in it, then serves the empty plate and gets stroppy when the patron complains. He also “tidies up” by emptying shot glasses into a stray pint, then drinking the resulting grog-melange. There’s no indication yet that he’s above his station. He seems to be beneath it. He’s not even nice. Still, we get further iterations of Man’s Eternal Struggle with the Swing Doors.

Give him a dog, do I hear you suggest? OK, here’s a nameless dachshund which he keeps in a cupboard and walks on his lunch hour. Long before A DOG’S LIFE. Some good mischief comes of this: his cuff comes off and slides down the leash. An anticipation of MODERN TIMES.

The dog doesn’t seem to be making Charlie more sympathetic. He trips over it. Then loses it. Fights a small boy for it. (Tiny Tarzan again: kid does a good fall.)

Meanwhile, Mabel is a posh girl. More trouble than usual is taken to delineate her world of awnings and parasols, versus Charlie’s skid row planks and beggary. There’s a distinct lack of irony in Charlie coming to Mabel’s rescue — better if he got caught up in the struggle by accident, rather than suddenly showing out-of-character heroism. But then there’s some good dirty fighting. His opponent is William Hauber, whose sour, pinched, aggrieved face suits this story better than his previous Chaplin roles.

Charlie now starts flirting with Mabel, who’s impressed by his violence. Previous beau, the inevitable Harry McCoy, has disgraced himself by cowering before the ruffian. Chaplin undergoes a remarkable transformation, and so do his props. He picks his tooth with his cane, just about the first instance of him making the physical world repurpose itself for his benefit, a major Chaplin trope. He presents a card, which he somehow has on his person, giving his identity as Baron Doobugle, Prime Minister of Greenland. (Other prints make him “O.T. Axle, Ambassador for Greece” — even The Chaplin Encyclopedia is unsure which version is authentic.) Mabel is even more impressed, and who can blame her? I would be too. Additionally, his display of upper-crust simpering is quite deserving of our awe.

Seeing Chaplin put on airs is exciting, as if he’s discovering what his Tramp outfit is for. Contrast. It’s perhaps not quite there yet, since this is an act, and the future Tramp’s pretensions are quite sincere ones. Moments before, he was stumbling about half asleep, his fag-ash dropping heedlessly down his front, visible even in long shot in a 100 year-old print found on a tip. Now he’s a slicker, a swell. It’s visible in the way he thrusts his tiny butt in a manner both pugilistic and aloof. The walk is coming together more and more. He needs to fuse hobo walk with posh walk. (When a music hall rival said, “I have more talent in my arse than you have in your whole body,” Chaplin replied on the spot, “That’s where your talent lies.” Wrong. Chaplin’s arse speaks volumes. The most expressive rear end since the days of Le Petomane.)

But THE STRAIN… Charlie must keep up this posh act. He meets Mabel’s parents, his cane slung nonchalantly in his jacket pocket. Can they see through me? The comedy of social anxiety — it feels like Mabel has a good handle on the kind of stuff Chaplin can instinctively immerse himself in and get comedy out of. And there is, buried in this idea, pathos. For the first time.

Charlie returns to the wretched honky tonk where he earns his pittance — he’s completely forgotten he owns a dog — and has — what was I just telling you? — a profound emotional response to music. And Normand, always alert to the romantic touch, fades not-quite-out and then in on herself, the object of his reverie. The way the fades don’t dip all the way down to black is a lovely little grace note and another moment of experimental Mabel. You won’t see this anywhere else except 70s Fellini.

The dream over, Charlie is then kicked up the arse multiple times by his boss, Edgar Kennedy, wearing another florid moustache selected from his brimming coterie. Then more swing door vicissitudes and a brief but good and vicious skirmish with Chester Conklin.

Unlike in most of Chaplin’s previous films, we’re getting to see situations played out properly, give and take between performers unbutchered by the editor’s shears.

An interlude in which Charlie is challenged by the hulking Mack Swain (his GOLD RUSH co-star, “Big Jim”) seems to exist mainly to further elucidate the theme that women love a brute. Charlie soon has the dolls flocking to him after braining Mack with an outsize mallet (were these really kept behind the bar for such occasions? The hammersklavier interlude during The Trail of the Lonesome Pine persuades me this is so.)

PART 2: Charlie is now a big man on skid row, and is off to Mabel’s party in his slick new duds, featuring the silk hat and big coat that become a true prime minister of Greenland. Harry McCoy, demoted from bland leading man in previous films, is now the jealous rival scheming to sabotage him: Chaplin’s role in MABEL AT THE WHEEL. The humiliation! Chaplin blew him away in the villain role, and now the tables are turned, he’s still blowing him away as hero or anti-hero or whatever he is here.

We keep seeing from Mabel’s garden gate that she lives at number 666 but I refuse to attribute any demoniac significance to this.

The party. Mabel can overlook Charlie wiping his mouth with his coat-tails after a drink, but she looks aghast at his big, decaying shoes. Several sizes too big, of course, and worn on the wrong feet. Still, she’s enchanted by his heavy drinking and his loud belching is, it seems hilarious to her. Where has she been all our lives? I confess I relate somewhat to Charlie’s response to being at a party: free booze! It makes purely economic sense to down as much of it as possible, save you paying for it later in the week.

Nice little idyll with the band playing and Charlie singing and burping along to it, and Mabel reacting. Nice to see the people a bit closer to the camera. We’re sure to go wide again for the inevitably brawl. We have arrived at the inevitable drunk scene, with added dyspepsia. Can fisticuffs be far away?

Not sure how this one’s going to end (well, yes, with a fight, obviously). Charlie’s position seems untenable, but McCoy, shaking his fist in a variety of single medium shots, is a sneak and a yellow-bellied lizard and does not deserve fair lady’s hand.

Of course! The swine McCoy takes the party slumming to Charlie’s workplace, a dastardly ploy to expose his lowly origins. Is it really plausible, he will ask, that the prime minster of Greenland should be moonlighting in this filthy hole? Possible, perhaps, but far from likely.

Ensconced in the nameless gin-joint, Mabel, who could smile and wink as a gentleman eructated in her face, is scandalised by Minta Durfee’s sexy dance, and then Charlie, finally getting the better of the swing doors, passes flawlessly through to exposure and shame. Some good suspense first, though, as he cunningly disguises his apron in a variety of coy postures. But his boss, Edgar Kennedy, unreasonably expects him to do some work, and thus a scuffle breaks out. Mabel, recipient of cinema’s first face-pie, gets it splurch in the kisser once more.

All hell breaks loose. Various parties hit with various objects. Mabel crouches bottom left of frame clapping her hands like a clockwork monkey as Kennedy runs amuck with twin pistols. Charlie renders him comatose with multiple bricks to the brow — the set wall buckles notably as the big man slumps against it — there is an attempted reconciliation — but Mabel isn’t going to solve the problems of class and economic disparity in a single two-reel farce comedy, is she? You can’t expect it.


4 Responses to “Doobugle of Greenland”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    This seems to be a very early case of using a cute dog to meet girls. After meeting the first two ladies at the fountain, a light bulb seems to go on and Charlie promptly sets to crowding a small flock of them, trying to give the impression (to them or to us?) that his dog is entangling them. Wondering if a pet as chick bait was already a cliche.

    Other interesting detail: That table on the left side of the cabaret shots. When not actively engaged in selling a ballad or Shaking It, Minta is parked there until dislodged by someone we’re meant to focus on. She faces the camera and reacts only mildly to Charlie, looking quietly poignant. Mabel gave her that prime spot and trusted her not to upstage in usual Keystone fashion, perhaps in exchange for the dance moment that must have been a scorcher in 1914?

    Axle … Greece. Wonder if Doobugle is similarly an actual joke, now lost in the mists. Maybe a riff on a real name that was replaced in some prints because its owner was either too obscure or too litigious.

  2. Apparently Syd Chaplin rewrote a bunch of Keystone Charlies, adding a lot of would-be jocular intertitles. Either Axle or Doobugle is likely to be his work.

  3. I believe the mallets were used to tap the wooden beer kegs of the period. Though, braining such folks as need braining was definitely a secondary use.

  4. Oh, that totally makes sense. And the baseball bat or shotgun only came later.

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