Archive for June 5, 2022

The Sunday Intertitle: The Love Shack

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 5, 2022 by dcairns

Charlie gets out of prison — very short sentence this time. Apparently he wasn’t fingered for the Tiny Sandford Gang’s depredations.

This title card WOULD be useful if we wanted to do a Chaplinesque zombie film, I guess (see Jeff Gee’s comment on yesterday’s post, and see the custard pie fight in Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD).

I guess MODERN TIMES really is episodic, because I couldn’t remember what happens next. Oh yes — second idyll — the real one — the Gamin has found a home for the pair to live in. As they walk off together, we learn that the police station where Charlie has apparently served his sentence is around the corner from the street where he first got arrested. Geography must arrange itself conveniently when you’re paying for it.

This also makes me wonder if some of the film’s connective tissue is an afterthought and some of the scenes rearranged after filming. Chaplin might, for instance, have considered having his star couple meet before the FIRST jail term separates them. Usually, if you can see a way to swap scenes around, then you’d be just as well throwing them out. But MT is a picaresque in which incidents follow one another in a not-quite-random manner — the only structuring principle if the central character’s emotional journey. O LUCKY MAN! is a great example: in terms of story logic, most of the scenes could be reshuffled with impunity, but there’s a clear arc in which the protag loses faith in one goal, establishes it in another, and so on.

Paulette’s “paradise” is a lot like the cabin in THE GOLD RUSH (which no woman ever entered), only smaller (less comic action is required to fit inside it). It’s not much like the suburban-cottage Charlie painted in the fantasy sequence, standing ramshackle on a bleak headland with a dangerous plank over the threshold, serving no purpose but to deliver painful clunks to the noggin.

The plank and the collapsing table deliver semi-realistic sound effects — Tatiesque in the way they’re not QUITE naturalistic but not cartoony metaphors, and emerging out of silence/music rather than the realistic hum of atmos. The movie is slowly becoming a sound film, maybe? Speech is still confined to machines, and we haven’t had any since the prison radio.

“Of course it’s no Buckingham Palace,” says the G by intertitle after the roof nearly falls in, a typically British reference for Chaplin. The tumbledown hideaway resembles the Queen’s residence only in sheltering a millionaire ephebophile.

Chaplin was deliberately careful to eliminate sex from this relationship, perhaps because he and Goddard hadn’t quite gone public with their relationship, and sex out of wedlock still needed some plausible deniability in American life, and in movies under the Hays Code. If the pair were more lovey-dovey, their cohabitation would have raised questions. Still, when a secret panel / disintegrating wall tips Charlie into the nearby bay, and Paulette offers him a shapely calf as a lifeline, the prospect of him shimmying up her bare leg is not entirely free of erotic charge, and the sequence fades out discreetly before he gains so much as the shin.

Life in the shack is idyllic, according to the soundtrack, even if everything we see is discomfort and want. Charlie somehow has a swimming costume so he can take a morning dip, but the water is shallow and freezing. The door plank still plans to assassinate him. But, as in those parts of Chaplin’s childhood when his mother was present, making do with little is a kind of adventure. Even though he has no job to go to, Charlie dresses for work and departs in the a.m. With a steak sandwich inside him — the Gamin is, we must assume, the provider for now. Her naughty wink when Charlie asks where she got the bread is sensational. You can’t really suggest a platonic relationship with Paulette as one half of it.

She’s also swiped a newspaper — apart from the loaf, she’s followed Elaine May’s advice and only stolen flat things. And the news is good — there’s work to be had. The Jetson Mills are to be reopened. I didn’t realise that Hanna-Barbera’s futuristic family came from a line of mill-owners. Also, I’d always assumed that Charlie got reemployed at Electro Steel — the set seems the same. But apparently it’s a different place. And a different episode. As Charlie speed-waddles off into a frightful industrial wasteland, the Gamin quite unconsciously falls into the exaggerated waving and jumping of the suburban housewife seen earlier.