Archive for June 19, 2022

The Sunday Intertitle: Cafe Society

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2022 by dcairns

Leaving the factory, Charlie is pushed around by a nasty cop, and takes an accidental revenge — stumbling on a chance arrangement of objects, he hurls the last brick of his career. Ever the unconscious anarchist.

The running gag of imprisonment is played one last time. Going to prison is like going to the cinema — when you step outside, the world has changed. But in this case, it’s for the better: Paulette has a job. Dancing solemnly to a hurdy-gurdy in the street, she’s alent-spotted by Henry Bergman, loyal Chaplin supporting actor and gagman in his final screen role. Bergman suddenly looks much older, but then the gaps between films are now years long. He may have lost a bit of weight, or gravity may have started pulling it all down his skeleton. He’d live another ten years, though, and I hope they were happy. Did his cafe stay open? Was it like the one in this film?

Paulette Goddard’s dancing: she was a Ziegfeld girl, but the subtle assistance of a choreographer might have been useful. But I guess the idea is that she’s a charming natural.

The hurdy gurdy and the cafe are right next to the jail on the dockland street we’ve seen previously.

Chaplin recycles his “One week later” title to signal his own release. If I’d known you only got two weeks for lobbing masonry at people, I might have thrown more bricks in my life. The Gamin is waiting for him once more, this time in new clothes. Time for Charlie to start his final short-lived career, as “Smile” plays again.

If MODERN TIMES is a satire on western civilisation in the twentieth century, then I guess this is the part where Chaplin rips the lid off the singing waiter racket. Paulette rapid-fire talks Bergman into hiring Charlie. “Can you sing?” I wonder if this was enough to tip off the sharper viewers in 1936 that Charlie was going to give voice? It’s smart to make us wait…

Charlie, being a silent actor, is naturally dismayed at the prospect. Fingers to throat, he tries to explain the impossibility of it to the G. Somehow, I’m never really bothered by the conceptual clash of characters talking in intertitles but singing vocally.

Meanwhile — the County Juvenile Division issues a warrant for the Gamin for Vagrancy. When I hear the word, I always think of the Vatican newspaper correspondent’s denunciation of Elizabeth Taylor for “erotic vagrancy,” a charge that might apply here, though they meant something else by it. Nobody else ever made the hobo life so appealing.

The form has a bunch of blank entries for “Name,” “Description,” etc, but the big lunk filling it in makes like two scratches of the pen and the thing is somehow complete.

Charlie is waiting tables. As always happens when he crosses a dance floor, he becomes entangled with a dog (well, vaguely similar incidents occur in A DOG’S LIFE and THE GOLD RUSH). He does show some promise in the job, though, falling over and getting up without spilling anything from his highly-stacked tray. On the other hand, as a natural unconscious anarchist, he’s going to have trouble with kitchen doors marked In and Out. They’re swing doors, you see. They open both in AND out. So why can’t they be used interchangeably?

If MODERN TIMES frequently looks back to Mutual days (and beyond), this sequence refers to THE COUNT and CAUGHT IN A CABARET. But Chaplin, giving the Tramp his last solo starring role, is not content just to revisit old favourites. The gags are substantially fresh.

Whimsy! Charlie borrows a drill from a workman to put the holes in a block of cheese.

As Charlie’s longest-suffering patron, Lloyd Ingraham (INTOLERANCE) manages, by the power of acting, to make us immediately unsympathetic towards a figure we might otherwise relate to. He just wants his dinner. But he’s obnoxious about it. The head waiter, played by Fred Malatesta, is another asshole. Faced with these characters, Charlie’s inefficiency becomes a heroic trait

From their movements, the two waiters inadvertently provoked into a fight by Charlie’s door trouble, are clearly silent clowns. The IMDb is silent on the identity of one, but claims the other to be John Rand. I wouldn’t have recognized him, and still don’t. And I missed him in CITY LIGHTS, as the other tramp who dives for a cigar! I guess he’s the one with hair here. As with Bergman, this is his last appearance for Chaplin, though he’d make a few more appearances elsewhere.

Crossing the dance floor with Ingraham’s duck, Charlie is swept up in a sea of humanity and loses the duck to a waiting chandelier. It can happen. Ingraham delivers a study in apoplectic frustration as his tray approaches, then retreats, finally arriving duckless. Retrieving the wandering fowl, Charlie makes a slip-up carving it and the greasy bundle is abducted by a drunken footballer. I never enjoy loutishness in films, whether Charlie is perpetrator (in early shorts) or victim, so this bit makes me feel too much sympathy for Charlie to find it funny.

The waiters start singing — not really synchronized — while Charlie rehearses. It’s clear his job retention, always dicey, is going to depend on his voice (!). Unfortunate that in a film with so few words, one of them, via the waiters’ song, should be “darkies.” But I always view this kind of discomfort as salutary. It’s good to be shocked by the recognition that this kind of thing was once casual pop culture discourse.

Charlie has trouble with his lines. Paulette writes them on his cuffs. How she’s going to fit all the verses one I don’t know, but the sheriff has already demonstrated that writing in this film is a magical activity. The lyrics we get to read set up what the song is about, so that when Charlie tells it with Italianate nonsense words and pantomime, we will have a helpful clue as to what he’s on about. It’s the story of a rich old guy seducing a pretty girl: it’s hard to see any self-awareness from Chaplin about this narrative, a familiar one in his life. I think he doesn’t relate to it because he’s not fat.

Full of confidence with his crib sheet on his wrists, Charlie steps out to sing —