Archive for June 4, 2022

The Big Store

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2022 by dcairns

MODERN TIMES continued.

Moments ago they were out fantasising in the suburban sprawl, now Charlie and the Gamin are suddenly at the entrance to a department store, and there’s a vacancy. The night watchman has broken his leg. I wonder how? But Charlie doesn’t. Presenting the letter from the prison governor, he is immediately hired. Hmm, I wonder how often that happened in real life.

He immediately sneaks the Gamin in — after all, they are not only unemployed but homeless. Department stores make excellent homes, as you’ll know if you’ve seen either Evening Primrose or DAWN OF THE DEAD. Charlie has hit on the perfect way to get fired within 24hrs, thus giving the film finally a structure — the running gag of job loss.

The store has a huge bar with cakes and sandwiches standing uncovered. Safe to eat? Apparently.

Invading the toy department, as you would, the Gamin is drawn to an off-model Mickey Mouse (in his only costarring role with Chaplin, so far as I’m aware, though CC may appear in a Disney toon somewhere), but then they both don rollerskates for a spin around the shop floor. We may be about to learn how the night watchman injured himself.

Like some Krell laboratory, the store has a three-storey drop without guardrail, and Chaplin teases us with some Harold Lloyd thrill-comedy, using a glass painting to avoid running the risk of actual death. The main pleasure of the sequence is the return to THE RINK, showcasing CC’s balletic grace.

The G., noticing that blindfolded Charlie is skating close to the edge of extinction, claps her hand over her mouth to stifle a scream, probably NOT the right instinctive response. Losing the power of speech (well, it IS a sort-of silent film) she has to wobble towards him (she wasn’t in THE RINK so she’s a novice on wheels) and nearly propel him over the edge with her. Brilliant.

Chaplin claimed he learned counterpoint from the English music hall — Fred Karno would use elegant chamber music to accompany drunken tramps. And that’s it: the graceful music fits Chaplin’s moves, but ignores the panic and peril the Gamin and the audience are feeling. Thereby intensifying them, while maintaining a comic distance.

Good gag where, finally seeing the danger, Chaplin loses all control of his legs and begins frantically, compulsively moonwalking to his doom. It’s always the way.

And then the pair gingerly tiptoe away. They will not be doing THAT again. Note to self: never rollerskate blindfold in a deserted toy department without checking for the YAWNING ABYSS.

What becomes a legend most? Paulette luxuraites in a fur coat before bedding down for the night in the bedding department.

Thieves! With a gun pointed at him, Charlie again loses the power of rollerskating. Commanded to freeze, he instead puts on a furious display of running forwards while moving backwards. On a trajectory that takes him to the escalator (THE RINK meets THE FLOORWALKER). Again, a Chaplin motif that seems to stem from childhood anxiety — under the orders of a strict authority figure, Charlie is physically unable to comply. See also Black Larsen ordering him out of the cabin in THE GOLD RUSH, while the wind compels him to remain.

Charlie is now forcibly inebriated by a perforated rum keg. First cocaine, now rum. The wildest time since Stan Laurel in FRA DIAVOLO. It turns out that one of the burglars is “Big Bill” from the Electro Steelworks — Stanley J. “Tiny” Sandford. He never liked Charlie when they were so-workers, but now he’s an unemployed criminal he’s overcome with nostalgic affection. The good old days of dehumanizing slave labour, One of his partners in crime cracks open a bottle of champers and they all get swallied together.

Next morning, the Gamin awakens before the store opens — Chaplin is ruthless about not giving Paulette any comedy to do — and Charlie is discovered amid the women’s apparel, rising arse-up like a sudden trousered volcano.

Result: Charlie is fired AND arrested — we never learn what happened to Tiny’s gang but I hope they made off with enough valuables to make them comfortable for life.

Off to prison! To be continued.