I should really have written about the one-reeler IN THE PARK last month, because that’s when it came out. I don;t mean March 2021, I mean March 1915. Though Chaplin slowed down his furious pace of production when he moved from Keystone to Essanay, this slight film came out a week after THE CHAMPION, and probably hadn’t taken much longer to plan, shoot and cut.

Immediate Leo White! He’s in a top hat so we can expect him to suck on some abuse shortly. He’s also making out with his girly on a bench, while Edna Purviance, graced with a medium close shot, looks on in a transport of vicarious romantic emotion. We know that’s what it is because the book she’s brought to read is called Why They Married (I looked it up: it’s a real book, by James Montgomery Flagg. I’m not going to read it, though, as I’m certain Chaplin never did).

This sequence seems to have been shot during a lightish but persistent drizzle, which everyone is improbably ignoring. But it could just be print damage, doing a fantastic imitation of rain: it seems sunny, too.

Charlie is introduced having his pocket picked by an unskilled hobo wearing clown stubble. The guy is so bad, Charlie picks his pocket while he thinks he’s picking Charlie’s pocket. Then Charlie watches Leo White and his girl getting it on for a while — a popular spectator sport, seemingly.

Bud Jamison turns up as Edna’s beau. Charlie had been using him as a Goliath foil, but here he seems well-suited to the part of straw-hatted Bunter. Suddenly he’s all eagerness, freed from the obligation to glower.

Edna is playing a nursemaid but she can’t be very good at it: she’s forgotten the baby. Hopefully she just left it at home and the poor thing’s not floating in Echo Park Lake as we watch the shenanigans here. (Did Essanay crews sometimes collide with Keystone crews while shooting park films? Yes, I’ve just decided, “park films” is a genre.)

After briefly annoying Leo (yes, the cane pokes the topper), Charlie spots Edna and starts flirting manically. She response with demure enthusiasm, because chicks dig tramps coming on to them. They don’t find it gross or threatening. Ever. Edna is so delighted she even shoots a shy glance at the camera, or at her sympathetic chums, the audience, showing an ability to break or at least puncture the fourth wall that Chaplin is increasingly reserving for himself.

A guess: Chaplin may have added these shots to enhance sympathy for his character. because when he joins Edna on her bench, she’s frosty to him, and he behaves like an annoying masher, even throwing one leg across her lap like a hobo Harpo (and Adolph Marx certainly saw a few Chaplin shorts in his no-doubt misspent youth).

The incompetent thief — future Warners director Lloyd Bacon — snatches Leo White’s date’s purse from the bench.

This exciting melodrama pauses while we watch Bud Jamison buy a sausage. And then take a gulp from a drinking fountain seemingly built into a tree. This is the kind of amazing stuff you simply don’t get in modern films.

The sausage seller is played by Ernest Van Pelt, who is in a couple more Chaplins, notably THE TRAMP.

The park is a wretched hive of scum and villainy — another hobo tries to rob the sausage vendor, smacking him about the face in a vicious battle for the coveted meat products. Charlie, having been seen off by Edna’s beau, joins the melee, walloping the attacker and then, naturally, filching a string of sausages while the vendor is shaking his hand in thanks. Then slapping the poor guy in the face with his own meat and legging it.

The dangling links also serve as a useful mace to knock Leo’s hat off, and then Charlie stuffs them in his jacket pocket, a loose end protruding for him to munch on in his usual unsanitary fashion. (Maybe this is a prequel to THE CHAMPION, showing how he came by the solitary sausage with which he starts that movie?) Just to amuse himself, Charlie experiments with stripper chest movements, by which he can swing the sausages up into his own gaping face-hole. Well, we’ve all done it.

The stolen purse now travels, in a series of filchings, from Bacon (who, appropriately, given his name, is drawn to Charlie’s sausages) to Charlie, to Bud, and back to Charlie. Then to Bud, Charlie, Bacon, Bud… I lost track. Then of course a cop (there’s always a cop — and we don’t call them kops any more, that’s a slur) shows up to make everyone want to disown the hot property they were just squabbling over.

As soon as the cop’s gone there’s a great threeway battle, deploying various kicks, roundhouse slaps, and even some brick-throwing for old time’s sake, enacted across a variety of variously damaged print fragments. Leo and his date are both bashed comatose by stray masonry, a brutal gag softened by the sweet sight of them sinking into unconsciousness together, her head on his shoulder.

As last clown standing, Charlie hooks the purse and departs, pausing to smash Leo deeper into unconsciousness, then falls into Edna’s baby carriage (good thing the occupant’s been abandoned somewhere in the middle of Sunset Blvd, he might have been hurt). Pausing only to hurl a brick and re-knock out Bud Jamison, he then flirts some more, and gifts the purse to her — she’s virtually the only character not to have held it thus far, so only fair she should get a shot of it. The cop turns up, Charlie flees.

The slumbering Bud makes a handy ashtray. People are always objects to Charlie, at least potentially. On the other hand, objects are potentially people. Or other objects. The natural state of the universe is flux. Bud soon awakens, spitting fag-ash from under his cookie-duster, and is outraged to see Charlie making heavily made-up eyes at his girl.

Charlie is seen off to another bench — the short is a fantastic guide to the variety of park furniture available in 1915 Los Angeles, which could possibly be useful to someone in some context I can’t quite visualise.

Leo and his lady awaken and the missing purse is discovered (missing). I’ve been calling it a purse, the IMDb calls it a pocketbook, but Leona Anderson clearly mouths the words “My bag” several times. So it’s a bag. And Leona is “Broncho” Billy Anderson’s little sister, and also the creator of what Wikipedia calls her “1957 shrill music album Music to Suffer By.” I’m not going to read Edna’s book but I HAD to listen to Leona’s record. Here’s a sample, appropriately enough a BURLESQUE ON CARMEN:

Poor Leo, meanwhile, is suicidal, proposing in a barnstormer’s wide gestures to toss himself in the lake. Charlie happens by and is enlisted as helper. There’s a brief moment where he looks set to mine the profitable “I’m dealing with a lunatic” thing he made such great effects out of later (dealing with the drunken millionaire in CITY LIGHTS) but then he simply falls in obligingly with the plan. Leo is to be propelled into the drink by a boot up the arse, so it’s certainly within Charlie’s bailiwick. He tenderly lifts Leo’s coat tails so the kick shall have its proper impact.

Leo, precipitated into the pond, blows a farewell kiss and submerges himself. It seems he’s just going to sit on the lake bed and drown himself in four feet of water.

Bud Jamison meanwhile is hauled off by the law after being found in possession of Miss Anderson’s bag, but then suspicion falls on Charlie. Well, if it worked once… Charlie kicks Bud and the cop into the lake. So, they’re wet, but Leo is dead. The end.

I guess the suicide business was something floating around in Chaplin’s mind that he knew he wanted to do something with. CITY LIGHTS is where he managed it, with the bipolar rich drunk. So it took about sixteen years to click. But it was worth it.

3 Responses to “Parklife”

  1. Trivium: Van Pelt was the surname of Lucy and Linus in the “Peanuts” comic strip; most likely borrowed from somebody Charles Schulz knew personally.

    Useless thought: Your two competing comedy companies hit the park on the same day. A real cop beholds what he first things to be some real mayhem from each company, and is abused on the assumption he’s an actor from the competition. He jumps into the lake to rescue a sinking pram, only to discover it contains an unconvincing doll. He blithely disarms a real stickup man, thinking him yet another performer with a phony gun. Of course the “prop” discharges as a critical moment. In the end the two companies have come to blows. The cop just laughs, and tells a bystander they’re just making movies.

  2. I like this idea — if you filmed it, the star comedian would be playing the cop, with lesser comics as cast and crew and bystanders. You could get a bit of suspense going by having a real and fake weapon get switched, with non-lethal consequences.

  3. Simon Kane Says:

    Leo White’s melodramatic wafting from eleven minutes on is just gorgeous!

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