Archive for November 15, 2020

The Sunday Intertitle: Tipsy Nuisance, or, Hot Rods & Hot Dogs

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 15, 2020 by dcairns

Charlie Chaplin is billed (on the IMDb) as “Tipsy Nuisance” for his role in MABEL’S BUSY DAY (still 1914) and the name is a good one. It’s another one of these weird early variations on his developing character — he wears the moustache, he has a derby hat and cane, but he wears a smart suit with a loose jacket. Tramp-and-yet-not-Tramp.

It’s also yet another variation on KID AUTO RACES AT VENICE. Use some kind of primitive drag race as a colourful backdrop to the arse-kicking.

I first saw this years ago and it was maybe my first complete Keystone viewing experience. I had befriended a splendid fellow named Chris Weedman in the US and he would tape stuff off TCM and mail it to me and I would mail him things like rare Donald Pleasence movies. It was the original version of file-sharing, I guess. Anyway, I was absolutely horrified by this film. It seemed to have no shape, focus, point, wit or reason for existing.

I was, of course, correct in my assessment, and it’s one that would stand if applied to nearly any Keystone “farce comedy.” But, as I watch Chaplin’s early films in sequence (where will I stop? The end of the Keystone period? The Essanay phase? Or A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG?) they make a bit more sense and you can chart Chaplin’s development, if not that of the Keystone studio, which finally went under simply because it would NOT develop. So even if the films are slight, they start to get very interesting. And it undoubtedly helps to have decent transfers/restorations rather than smudgy, dupey prints, recorded off-air on VHS.

Mabel is selling hotdogs. She puts on some kind of tale of woe so that Kop Chester Conklin will let her into the race track. He agrees in exhange for a hotdog in an unsuitable round bap. This is all done in pantomime and for once it’s clear what the conversation is about.

Once Mabel gets inside a rude man sticks a sausage in her face for a lark and she kicks the crap out of him. The film is starting to become a vision of hell.

Chaplin shows up, wandering past the turnstiles without paying, to the amusement of onlookers apparently delighted to be in a film. After some repetitive shoving and kicking, he gets inside and there’s more shoving and kicking. But at least we can focus on it, the screen isn’t yet busy with competing mummers. And Chaplin uses his cane to hook the Kop he’s tumbling with, which may be his first use of this trick. It’s a snooty, aristocratic move, appropriate to this entitled shit of a character, but becomes funnier when it’s incongruously performed by the actual Tramp.

I wonder if the Kops are all so extravagantly moustached, and wear such ill-fitting uniforms, so they won’t be mistaken for real law officers out on location among the public? They certainly stand out from the normies in plainclothes, milling around the racetrack, staring at the camera.

THE MATRIX: LOADED.

Mabel isn’t having any luck selling her meaty wares, and seems to be trying for pathos — which puts her ahead of Chaplin until he makes THE TRAMP the following year at Essanay. I can lipread her woeful cries of “Sausages! Frankfurters!” or at least I think I can.

Tipsy Nuisance finds some girls cheering the race, is apparently taken with them (checking out their bottoms) and so, in the manner of an eight-year-old, decides to annoy them by standing in their view. Then he picks a purse, then he makes a joke of it. Flirtatious Charlie always seems to offer suggestions of the riches to come… he kicks up one heel behind him in a joyous gesture — a classic Chaplinesque trope, and I think this is its first appearance.

Mabel is having trouble with the latest in a series of obnoxious customers so Tipsy Nuisance turns unexpectedly gallant and kicks the guy up the arse and then fetches him a tremendous slap to the face. And you could argue it actually means something. Defending a lady’s honour, or frankfurters, and so on. More kicking and slapping follows, with which Mabel is delighted. Women love violence.

But soon Mabel is despondent. Her sausage-selling is a disaster. Charlie comforts her. Then makes off with a handful of meat product. Mabel freaks and gives chase. Good background detail of Conklin lying unconscious against a wall. Don’t know what happened to him. I guess maybe the hotdog was too rich for his system. But Mabel revives him with some screaming.

Tipsy Nuisance escalates things by stealing Mabel’s entire tray of goods and passing them out to suddenly eager customers. But these jerks are just as bad as the ones Mabel dealt with, and they start bullying him by constantly repositioning his hat on his head. I can see how that would get irritating.

Twice in this film Charlie chokes on a bit of sausagemeat — again, the obsession with stuff going down the wrong way. This may be a silent film but when he starts beating up his customers, Mabel apparently hears him. She could see him offscreen before, but now she can, and she alerts Constable Conklin. Edgar Kennedy appears and seems about to do something, but the rest of his bit is apparently lost, or was deleted (but then why leave a fragment?)

Faced with both Mabel’s righteous accusation and the presence of an authority figure, Tipsy Nuisance turns placatory (all bullies are cowards). Nice bit when Mabel boots him hard up the jacksy and he tips his hat in reply — another Chaplinesque trope appearing for the first time here. Some very good silent wheedling from the man Chaplin here. Gently touching Conklin’s nightstick, trying to lower it with caresses.

Then the inevitable barney. Mabel does some very funny flailing. Everyone kicks up a lot of dust, and a lot of arses. Mostly looks like this would be a lot of fun to DO.

Charlie, stripped to suspenders and shirtfront (and trousers, this is not a porno though it has aspects of one), is moved by Mabel’s tears and tries to comfort her. They go off arm in arm, she still trying to get the odd kick in. Probably some aspect of their real-life collaboration can be found in this.