Watch Uncle

It’s time for HIS NEW PROFESSION and oh, a proper part for Charley Chase! He’s a rich young gent who foists his gouty uncle on a passing hobo (Charlie). They make for good physical and social contrasts, the monied beanpole and the short tramp, plus of course the inflamed uncle.

We open in a close-up on Charlie, which is novel, as he tears a bathing beauty’s image from a tattered copy of Police Gazette (did they have pin-ups?), folds it up and pockets us, all while glancing right at us, in a — what? — furtive? — manner.

Charley evidently hates his uncle, and wants to get him out the way (just temporarily: he’s not uxoricidal) so he can be with his gal. Which I guess explains his odd decision to entrust the swollen relative to Charlie’s care. Gout, of course, is the kind of indisposition it was fine to laugh at in 1914, as it’s primarily a disease of the rich or overindulgent, and Charlie would get brutal with a bandaged appendage again in THE CURE, to memorable effect. It’s important to make the party in the bathchair with the throbbing foot some kind of petty tyrant, and this is duly attempted in HIS NEW PROFESSION.

“Push him around a bit, will ya? We’ll settle up later.” (Or, in another version, “I’ll fix it up with you later”) Charley “says,” via intertitle. Establishing an offhand attitude reinforcing the fact that Charley also thinks it’s hilarious when he drives the chair over one of Charlie’s big boots. Charlie and the uncle nurse their sore toes together without any mutual sympathy.

So, we’re in a park again — should have clarified that — but it’s nicely different. Charlie’s only romantic interest is a photograph (which is pretty realistic, given his homelessness), and the chairbound unc is a fresh element. Plenty of slapstick can be produced from the chair, just by basic incompetence.

Interesting. Chase’s gal spills some stuff on the pathway and Charlie slips in it and sits on it. It’s not too clear what this stuff is. Maybe eggs. It seems to come from a paper bag that tears. The couple has done a heap of shopping during an implausibly brief cutaway. Probably what was needed was one simple and easy to identify thing, like an ice cream cone. But I must bear in mind, this would have been seen on a much bigger screen than my laptop comes equipped with. Anyway, Charlie wets his bottom on whatever it is and then, like a dog doing a particularly tricky shit, he scrapes his rump across the lawn to dry it. Which is pretty funny, in a low kind of way.

When stingy uncle (Jess Dandy, a semi-regular co-star at Keystone) won’t advance Charlie a dime to buy drink, Charlie hits on the idea of stealing a one-armed beggars “Help a cripple” sign, appending it to the slumbering uncle, and collecting the takings. Again, pretty funny but pretty low.

Charlie is duly equipped to visit the bar, but wouldn’t you know it, the old swing doors cause him the old trouble — and some new trouble, too.

Argh — booze — just out of reach!

Charley with an e meanwhile discovers his uncle apparently begging on the promenade, provoking a bust-up with his disgusted girl. A bad splice seems to have destroyed Charley’s most important bit of acting, but his “poor fish” persona is emerging nicely even at this early stage.

Charlie gets drunk again (on a dime? he’s a cheap date) and emerges into the daylight to find uncle trading blows with the beggar whose sign he acquired. Said beggar turns out to have two arms, after all, which softens the obnoxiousness even if it adds to the general air of rancorous incivility and selfishness.

Hmm, a bathchair on a pier. With a soused pusher. I’m a little concerned about uncle.

Charley goes to drown his sorrows while Charlie gears up to drown uncle. But first, a bit of smutty bonding over the Police Gazette pin-up, This momentof human sympathy is dispelled when Charley’s ex turns up and starts chatting with Charlie. The prospect of an actual three-dimensional woman, and the prospect of the unwanted uncle serving as third (and fourth) wheel soon compels him to shove that bathchair to the very brink of the drink.

Enter Charley, to find his girl flirting with a hobo (Charlie is now using his cane fluently as a kind of girl-hook), Repercussions follow. Surprisingly, the (relatively) unoffending uncle gets shoved towards the end of the pier twice, without plummeting. Keystone weren’t much cop (or kop) at suspense, because their first impulse on thinking of something was to have it happen. Whereas Charlie is working out that the mere threat of it is useful.

(In Britain, “end of the pier humour” has a specific meaning, referring to cheerfully vulgar, bawdy, lowbrow material.)

Chaplin feels, probably rightly, that he can terrorise and abuse his wheelchair characters all he wants, but he can’t drown them. He does chuck a kop into the brine, and doesn’t bother to see him rescued, but he spares both uncle and beggar. This, however, leaves him without much of an ending. The tramp sniggers, yawns, belches, and looks about to stagger off when the film basically runs out.

HIS NEW PROFESSION doesn’t extend the character in startling ways, but does have him behaving more IN character, as an incompetent, drinking, flirting force of mischief and chaos, but not truly vicious (nobody gets their teeth knocked in). Audiences started recognizing the tramp very early on, in his first few appearances. We’re starting to recognize him now.

2 Responses to “Watch Uncle”

  1. jesus david these are completely unique

  2. Just reading David Robinson’s Chaplin bio and he puts everyone to shame.

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