The Sunday Intertitle: The Party

Charlie’s second drunken party scene has two great gags: he’s offered a strange dessert, and then tries to eat a bald man’s head which, in fairness, resembles the dessert to a quite implausible degree. When offered the correct dish after trying to spoon up the pate, he refuses. It now has unfortunate associations.

For some reason, Chaplin’s makeup has gotten really crude in this film, and in particular this part of the film. His hair turned white back around THE GOLD RUSH, so there seems no reason for his eyebrows to have abruptly turned so cartoonish, so Grouchoesque.

Then he swallows a whistle. I haven’t asked any of my accompanist friends if this gag would be too hard to play live. I guess anything can be managed, with sufficient prep time and good reflexes. But it is a sound gag, and there aren’t so many of those in earlier Chaplins. Also, though, it’s using the resources available to a cheap pit orchestra. The sounds of the film are pretty well all musical. Even the gunshots would be achievable using standard movie theatre equipment.

This is another of Chaplin’s obsessive “swallow metallic objects” gags, harking back to the childhood trauma of almost choking to death on a coin. Probably made more memorable since Hannah Chaplin’s home-schooled Heimlich solution was to hold little Charlie upside down and pummel him: effectively, a re-birthing experience.

Charlie’s whistle disrupts a music recital, then calls an unwanted cab, then attracts a whole assorted sled team of dogs.

And in the morning, Charlie is ejected, but not before one of his startling gay jokes — CITY LIGHTS as pre-code film? The drunk millionaire, awakening sober, is astonished to find an unfamiliar male bedmate. Chaplin makes sure the suspicion is crystal-clear by patting his chum affectionately on the cheek.

OUT.

It’s worth noting that Harry Myers’ essentially serious-looking face is used to brilliant comic effect when he’s sober. He LOOKS tragic, but IS funny. Oddly enough, though his drunk act is very skilled. it’s his miserable sober guy that really makes me laugh.

This ejection puts Charlie back in his tramp clothes — he’s spent a day wandering about in rich man’s togs (somehow obtained the night before last, fitting his unusual frame to perfection). Now, dropping by the blind girl’s place (where she lives with her grandmother in picturesque Dickensian poverty courtesy of designer Charles “Danny” Hall) he overhears a doctor offering a diagnosis: the girl is sick. Chaplin lets his camera move, in an elegant creeping POV shot that edges round an obstructing wall to get a better view. A very atypical move for him.

The girl being unable to work sends Charlie off to earn some cash. As a street sweeper. Cue dung joke. A pretty good one. Worth hiring an elephant for the day.

Albert Austin appears, a little plumper than in his Mutual days. I only identified him by his cookie-duster, which isn’t even real. More food jokes — Austin accidentally eats soap. He’ll be back later, as a burglar.

Virginia unwittingly unravelling Charlie’s undershirt is one of the few jokes using her blindness directly. We learn that Charlie times his visits for when granny’s away, to enable him to keep up the millionaire illusion. Granny is a remarkably trusting lady.

And now we learn of the new cure for blindness, and also that the rent’s due. And, bang on cue, Charlie loses his job — spending too much time at lunch with his charity case. This crisis leading, very swiftly, to the celebrated boxing sequence…

TO BE CONTINUED

3 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: The Party”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    In “The Comic”, Dick Van Dyke’s silent movie clown is off to the big city, and blind girl Michelle Lee wants to feel his smile one last time. She’s been gardening, so she innocently gets mud all over his face and into his mouth as he holds his cheery expression for her, grimacing and spitting out the dirt in those instants when she lowers her hand. As he walks away she stands waving goodbye. His dear old mother joins her, gently adjusting Michelle a few degrees so she’s facing the right direction.

    We also see the ending of the same film-within-a-film. Michelle, white cane tapping before her, rushes to Dick’s arms. But again, she’s slightly off course and instantly corrects when he whistles to her.

    Sharing a same-sex bed didn’t automatically have precode connotations in old movies. Stan and Ollie often shared a berth (“like two peas in a pot”); likewise the Three Stooges when a triple-level bunk bed wasn’t available. Female roomies frequently doubled or tripled up. If anything it indicated low income and/or immaturity (children frequently shared, so adult comics doing so implied childishness). Charlie and Harry sharing a bed is more indicative of how stinking drunk they were; as you note it’s Charlie’s cheerfulness and Harry’s reactions that put the spin on it.

  2. I enjoyed your post — I’m trying to watch more silent films and appreciated your descriptions here!

  3. Chaplin is a great place to start, along with Keaton and Lloyd!

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