Archive for A Jitney Elopement

The Whitsunday Intertitle: Tramp Steamer

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2021 by dcairns

A mystery! There are two versions of a restored SHANGHAIED (1915) on YouTube, one with intertitles and one largely without. They don’t look like original intertitles but they do seem necessary to comprehension so I’m watching the version with.

Ship owner — a thin, wispy type — says something to captain — a moustache and eyebrows type — who then says something to first mate — a rough, Emmet Kelly painted stubble type. The intertitles have the ship owner proposing that the ship be destroyed for the insurance, and the captain agreeing (a unique case of two characters speaking in a single Chaplin intertitle), and then the captain telling the mate he’s going to find a crew. But by pantomime the captain is clearly telling the mate that the ship must be blown up (abrupt hand gesture; awed reaction from mate). So the titles don’t feel quite right, but they’re clearly necessary.

The captain fails to recruit some sea-scum for his doomed voyage. Naturally enough they’re played by seasoned Essanay co-stars Paddy McGuire, Leo White and Billy Armstrong, and silent clown make-up seems to dovetail nicely with salty sea-dog make-up.

The mate spots Charlie. So far this is the plot of Laurel & Hardy’s THE LIVE GHOST. I can imagine the idea was fairly popular. You could turn Harry Langdon loose in such a story. Harold Lloyd could do it, if you made clear he badly needed the money. With Charlie, badly needing money is a given, so he makes a ready recruit for a corrupt scheme.

But hold! First we see Charlie romancing Edna, the ship owner’s daughter, evidently an affair of longish standing. And Charlie’s not outfitted in his maximum filthiness — the waistcoat looks smart. The jacket elbows are dusty, but on the whole he’s not a hobo here. Nevertheless, the ship owner disapproves of the match, as we see when he interrupts the clinch.

The shipowner is future director Wesley Ruggles, enjoying a major promotion from his walk-on in THE BANK. His side-whiskers give him a monkey-like appearance. He’s certainly created a clearly-defined caricature.

Charlie, bereft, makes an easy recruit for the shanghai-ing scheme. The mate gives him a lug hammer for hammering the lugs. The Little Fellow has no scruples about fracturing skulls for profit. I’m not sure if the character ever really acquires scruples, he tends to fall in with any schemes proposed by larger men, but the plots in the mature period tend to avoid having him do anything really corrupt for anyone else. He always has a chivalric attitude towards pretty girls, or at least towards his leading lady (once he leaves his sex pest phase behind, as perhaps he now has).

Charlie is to hide in a barrel, like Jim lad, and wallop the sea-scum as they walk past the boat they don’t want to sail on. There’s a flaw here somewhere but the movie doesn’t admit it. It turns out the mate (regular heavy Bud Jamison) is going to lure each man into hammering range with a pantomimed offer of grog. Naturally, none of the three men is suspicious as their number dwindles by inevitable fatal mallet attrition. The promise of grog obliterates all suspicion.

Charlie does his part of the black bargain fairly efficiently, though he keeps snatching the grog. Which might be whisky, going by the bottle, but I like typing “grog”. The history of grog is quite interesting, but has nothing to do with this film.

Unless I’m misreading the signs, Paddy McGuire seems to be playing his sailor in a “Hello, sailor” caricature of pansy mincing. Just for the hell of it. It’s not really necessary to distinguish the three sailors, but why not do it if you can, I guess?

Chaplin seems to be throwing dummies on board the ship rather than requiring his actors to flop onto the deck from a great height, or hiring stuntmen. These clowns can certainly take falls, but it’s uncertain they could do what’s shown here without serious bruising at least. Tight cutting prevents the trick being obvious, for once.

The captain shows up and of course gets clonked too. IMDb insists on calling him the mate (Lawrence A. Bowes) and Bud Jamison the second mate, but in that case there’s no captain at all, which seems odd.

Then comes the inevitable betrayal — Charlie is ceremonially clonked and thrown aboard to share the voyage with the men he’s walloped, though at least he gets to keep the three bucks and at least the men don’t know he’s responsible for their abduction, unlike in THE LIVE GHOST (Stan Laurel was adept at making each situation the boys get into the absolute worst possible iteration of that scenario — “Oh no” is not an uncommon thing to find yourself saying in a Laurel & Hardy film. In this, Stan is arguably refining a technique introduced by his old colleague Chaplin.)

The four captives are awakened by water-pail and set to work, even though we don’t seem to be at sea yet. I would have thought, fractured skulls or not, they might climb back on land at this point. But we soon see the wisdom of the captain’s plan. As each man refuses to work, he is slapped into unconsciousness and dropped down into the hold, no doubt breaking his neck. Leo White is playing his tar VERY OBSTREPEROUS so he gets this treatment. Billy Armstrong and Charlie agree to work.

Charlie is considering rebelling against a whey-faced cabin boy, a pale, drippy Larry Semon sample of a man, but then the captain shows up with a whip and all thoughts of mutiny go the way of the rumble seat.

So far, Chaplin is following a good pattern, one he’s developed by trial and error: Charlie has a sympathetic yearning for Edna; he’s also an amusing rogue; and now he’s in a terrible situation, enslaved on a boat that is, if I’m any interpreter of expository hand gestures, due to be blown up. Sympathy, conflict, suspense, a situation which demands a dramatic resolution. It’s all there. If anything, there’s too much plot, since Charlie has had little room for his comic elaborations.

The ship sets sail, which we see because the set is on rockers. It takes me a while to figure out that the attractive abstract pattern painted on the back wall is the scenic artist’s attempt to suggest the interior of the ship’s bow.

The cabin boy type, the one character Charlie has decided he can bully (this aspect of the Tramp character dies hard, it seems) is Fred Goodwins, a fellow Londoner who would survive service in WWI only to die of bronchitis in London aged 32. He’s in a few Chaplin shorts and has a meaty juvenile role in AMARILLY OF CLOTHES-LINE ALLEY, and David Robinson quotes his contemporary account of Chaplin’s lambasting in the press for vulgarity, and his determination to serve up good clean fun.

Extended bit with winch — Charlie gets two men overboard and, in trying to rescue them, plunges a third into the brine. None of which is massively funny, oddly enough. A new big prop like this would usually bring out Chaplin’s best ideas, but possibly the struggle of filming at sea is interfering with the comic flow. It’s a bit rote on this boat.

Quite a good gag where Armstong, White and McGuire, attempting to haul the captain and mate and underling aboard with a rope, fall off the other side of the ship. Although I’d have had them all hanging onto the rope so you could have six men hanging over the sides, and Charlie could try to rescue them by cutting the rope.

The frantic sailor operating the winch is good — hard to work out from the cast list who he is, and he might be doubling for one of the men overboard… he moves so fast it’s hard to framegrab him without just getting blurry ectoplasm. This would be solved if I had the Blu-ray.

Wesley Ruggles reads a letter: Edna has stowed away on the doomed boat. Ah-ha! I was genuinely wondering how Chaplin would be able to involve Edna in the story beyond the intro. The closeup of the handwriting, oddly, seems completely unrestored — it has a dupey VHS quality. I’m really wondering about the history of this upload.

The shock sends dada beating his bruised and krovvy rookers against unfair Bog in His Heaven. Pardon my nadsat.

Given Charles Ruggles’ later fame, it is arguable that Chaplin has hired the wrong brother, but nothing about Wesley is inapt in this context.

And now we see Edna hiding in a sack, anticipating Marion Mack, and we see Ruggles setting off in a launch to save his daughter from Exploding At Sea.

And now Charlie is washing dishes with predictable efficiency — when he washes them they STAY washed and will never need washed again, in all their many fragments. Unfortunately he’s washing them in the captain’s soup. This kind of gross-out pollution gag isn’t new — indeed, Charlie let his mop drip in Billy Armstrong’s tin of whatever-it-was in his previous short, THE BANK, much to both men’s eventual disgust.

Charlie seems to breaking the basic rules of screen direction by exiting the kitchen from the left and entering the mess also from the left. We seem to be missing a shot taken on deck where he appears from the kitchen and turns to enter another door in the same wall — whether this shot was deleted for pace reasons, lost, or was never shot, I don’t know. It seems unlikely that Chaplin would rely on what’s effectively a jump-cut to speed the film along, he’s always very meticulous about continuity and screen direction, and often shows himself walking through a set just to get to the next scene. He can generally add a bit of business to make the interim action entertaining.

The captain and mate, rocked back and forth (cameraman Harry Ensign devised a gimbal thing to sway the camera) in a medium shot, laugh about their successful shanghai-ing to remind us to hate them so we can enjoy them being sickened by washing-up soup, and Charlie builds in some good expense before the stricken reactions:

Of course it’s the poor cook (John Rand) who gets arse-kicked for it. Charlie attempts (a) to maintain a low profile (b) to ready a meat cleaver in self-defense (c) to look like an innocent skivvy. He escapes punishment from the captain but then the cook starts a fight, understandably enough. And now it seems that the captain’s mess is screen right, so that Charlie’s reaching it by exiting left was a bit of movie magic/a mistake. And now Charlie exits the kitchen screen right and emerges on deck, without passing through the mess. Who was the S.S. Vaquero’s boatwright, MC Escher?

Incidentally I wrote about all this in 2015, if you want to read the same stuff in different, possibly better, words.

Purely, it seems, to reestablish screen geography, Charlie walks all the way round the deck and enters every door, so we learn that the kitchen is IN FRONT OF the mess, both reached from the deck by going left to right, and so it should be impossible to walk through the kitchen to the mess. But actually, if we assume the kitchen is narrower and the mess is deeper, there just might be a way. But something is still out of wack here as far as I’m concerned.

Things aren’t helped when the ship/set/camera starts rocking violently, and bits of film start to go missing, splinking Charlie around so that he seems to exit right and emerge left, which we KNOW should be impossible. And now I can actually figure something out at last: somebody has flipped a shot, since the lifeboat that previously said L.A. now seems to say A.J. And when we saw this side of the deck previously, we were looking at the BACK of a lifeboat. So somewhere in the restoration a blunder has occurred. I think there’s quite a bit of this goes on at Lobster, sad to say.

And now Charlie enters the mess from the RIGHT… so maybe it was Chaplin who flipped the shot, to cover a mistake, accepting that he’d have to perform at least one spacetime violation since he didn’t have an exit/entrance shot taken on the right side of the boat.

And now he passes from one deck to the other (I believe port and starboard are the accepted terms but I don’t know which is which and this may be the wrong film to attempt to learn from) without passing through the rooms between, as if via wormhole. The nouvelle vague has nothing on this. I wonder if the various pieces of film could be unflipped and reordered in a way that makes sense?

In fairness, matching screen direction on a boat once caused the great Angela Allen, goaded by nonsensical questions from John Huston, to blow a microchip and throw her notes in the air (but NOT, she emphasises, over the side).

Now seated for his own meal, Chaplin is overcome by mal de mer. David Robinson points out the persistence of this routine in Chaplin’s work, developed through THE IMMIGRANT and appearing even during his last screen appearance in A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG. Comedy is very biological, especially visual comedy, but there were constraints on which functions could be shown or even implied. Nausea was acceptable.

Fleeing the food, Chaplin executes, and just about gets away with, another line-cross, then tumbles below-decks, where he must surely discover Edna who has only been in two shots thus far, for probably about a minute’s screen-time. Yes, the walking sack is Edna, as usual (though her 1915 fashions in this are slightly better than usual). She’s apparently discovered the dynamite plot, and the crate of dynamite has somehow moved into a prominent position on this set — perhaps there’s a lost scene where we see the captain and mate setting it up, and Edna overhearing them.

This unrestored version, seemingly dug up from somebody’s garden, is missing most of the geographical snafus but a lot of other material is gone too, including the intertitles.

Now the fuse is lit — the third act begins in earnest — Chaplin provides unusually dramatic suspense shots —

Disconnecting the fuse is intellectually beyond Charlie and Edna so he lugs the crate on deck and, in a piece of footage simply beyond all restoration — if you painted out the scratches you’d have Robert Ryan’s famous all-white painting, appropriately enough in this context entitled Bridge.

Hard to tell if the backlighting is a help or a hindrance to visual comprehension here.

Of course the dynamite somehow lands in the lifeboat with the captain and mate, and they explode. I laughed darkly at Charlie trying to explain his mistake to, presumably, a lot of reddish fragments littering the ocean like the remains of Bruce the shark after he ate something that disagreed with him.

Our lovers disembark onto dad’s launch. Dad, who is morally responsible for this criminal enterprise which has resulted in two fatalities.

A “mercy shot” shows the captain and mate alive and intact, but then shows them sinking from view. So they ARE dead.

The stage is now set for Charlie to be allowed to marry Edna, but her dad, who is after all a bastard, still refuses. Charlie prepares to drown himself. Edna, reunited with dad, is oblivious. He jumps. NOW she notices him.

Charlie manages to climb aboard and kick dad in the pants, dunking him. Charlie and Edna motor off leaving Wesley Ruggles to drown as they laugh in psychopathic glee, and ending Chaplin had previously applied to A JITNEY ELOPMENT. And then, without even an END title or Essanay’s Indian profile, it stops.

Grand Theft Jalopy

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2021 by dcairns

American women’s fashions in the 1910s were horrible, weren’t they? The pullover Edna Purviance wears in THE CHAMPION is the only thing she ever looked good in, that I can think of. In A JITNEY ELOPEMENT her frilly blouse makes her look like some kind of fancy pillow.

Still, she is Charlie’s darling, and when her father plans to wed her to some motheaten count, he personates said count (making him TRULY motheaten) to abscond with her. Leo White is the real count, of course — the fact that he looks like one may have been what suggested the film to Chaplin in the first place. His Little Fellow character would spend quite a lot of time personating dignitaries, starting with THE MASQUERADER, continuing through THE COUNT, and ending of course with his taking the place of the Phooey of Tomainia.

The name “Count Chloride de Lime” is moderately funny. Charlie trying to lord it up is amusing, but feels like it happens too soon in the story: we need to see him being himself a little more before we’re ready for this. Of course, we know what Charlie’s like as himself from other films, so the movie is maybe presuming on that familiarity, a sign of Chaplin’s increasing awareness of his success. I think the fact that he was so prolific in the early part of his year with Essanay (where he never felt quite at home) also suggests that he was trying to fulfill his contractual obligation as soon as he could, so he could be free to seek an even more rewarding deal elsewhere. So his sense that the Chaplin craze would be burned out within a year may have already been modified.

Edna’s dad performs a foul bit of expository mime for our benefit, pointing at Charlie then at his ring finger — yes, yes, we already know you want the Count to marry Edna, what do you think you’re playing at? I though Chaplin had eliminated this kind of laborious rigmarole when he left Keystone…

One way AJE improves on THE MASQUERADER is its simplicity. Whereas Keystone pics heap on plot wrinkles and complications, rarely resolving them with anything more satisfying than a tumble into standing water, the Essanay films allow Chaplin breathing room to play out simple situations. The set-up isn’t elaborate but the mucking about is.

Fun with bread! Charlie hasn’t got the idea of stealing the dance of the rolls from Fatty Arbuckle yet, but there’s a lovely bit where he distractedly tries to cut a slice from a loaf, slicing around in a long spiral rather than cutting through it, until he’s made a baked accordion of it. Best gag so far. Of course, in Charlie’s hands the loaf actually becomes a musical instrument.

Edna’s father is a very trusting man: he doesn’t wonder while Count Chloride is dressed like a tramp, nor why Edna is suddenly so keen on the fellow.

When a spoonful of beans is deposited on Charlie’s plate when he’s not looking, his surprise at finding it there is followed by a look skywards, as if it were birdshit — a gag repeated with a better choice of foodstuff in MODERN TIMES’ prison scene.

At 9:36 I think I can see Chaplin looking right at the camera and maybe saying “OK” or something. I don’t think he’s saying “cut” but I get the sense he’s breaking character.

Then a jalopy shows up, with Leo White in it. Leo seems to be the replacement for Ben Turpin as co-comedian. As Chaplin gained in confidence he would be less inclined to let anyone else be too funny, at least until the features. He was looking for a new Conklin at this point. White is obviously a different type from Chester and Ben, but he’s useful because of his toffee-nosed elegance. Charlie actually has the same air of gentility, but in his case it’s ironic. Leo is suavity in its natural colours.

This moment ought to create suspense, though there’s nothing formally to identify Leo as the Count. An intertitle could have cleared up any ambiguity, but Chaplin seems to be relying on the fact that Leo White couldn’t be called anything other than Count Chloride de Lime.

Charlie eats hot soup and blasts steam/smoke out his nostrils, a nifty special effect presumably achieved with the aid of a cigarette.

Upon Count Chloride presenting his card, Charlie is towed, naughty-boy, into the hall by his earlobe, where he fatalistically presents his behind for the customary boot. Which is delivered more in anger than sorrow. Charlie tips his hat meekly… then kicks his no-long-father-in-law-to-be in the guts, propelling him into the next set. By the time the old fellow has returned to the scene via the conventional Henry “Pathe” Lehrmann match cut on movement, Charlie has gone, which isn’t like him at all. I suspect missing footage. People never normally effect an exit in a Chaplin film without you getting to see it. The intertitle reading “Get out!” seems to have been spliced in to take care of this lacuna, but whether by Chaplin himself or later hands, I cannot say.

Edna receives the Count’s rather Italianate effusions with coldness, shaking her hand as if to cast off filthy droplets after he kisses it (but note: she shakes the wrong hand).

Edna, Pops and the Count go for an outing, and the deteriorated film stock gives this section a fogbound, Scottish look. Dank and dreary. It looks like David Hamilton’s been at the lens with his petroleum jelly. Pops, exhorting Edna to make nice with her creepy suitor, mimes another boot up the arse, but pulls his kick because leading ladies must not be treated so.

Edna’s revulsion at Leo’s advances is well-played, one of the few times Chaplin lets her be funny. Then she’s laughing at the holes in his trousers — he literally IS moth-eaten. Not clear why Edna’s dad is so keen on the match, the fiance being without finance. I guess he just likes titles.

Chaplin brings the film to a stop while he rolls a cigarette. This is done largely without gags, at great length and with huge detail and precision… then the fag paper unwraps and the whole thing disintegrates in his face. Textbook.

Defeated — and glancing at us with embarrassment — “Did they notice anything?” — he simply eats a handful of tobacco. The following action, however, when he lights up an ordinary ciggie, is pure filler.

Now Charlie confronts Leo, and we get an ornate bout of squabbling and low-level slapstick abuse. Fast, inventive, adroit. Ending with Leo’s silk hat rammed down over his eyes and the man himself ejected by boot into Edna’s oblivious father. Great and protracted tumbling over a log bench. (The varieties of park furniture in this era seem endless.

Enter two cops, a moustache and a face-puller, both equally thick. They try to follow Charlie but he fools them by walking backwards. The constabulary are played by the same clowns who were dad’s butlers, Lloyd Bacon and Paddy McGuire.

Rough-and-tumble with Edna as Charlie tries to spoon with her on a branch. The leading ladies post-Keystone were rarely subjected to such bruising ordeals. I think it’s a mark of comic respect when they get to fall over.

Charlie now fights Leo, Edna’s dad, the two cops (felled with two handy bricks, of the kind you always find lying around in parks) and a big cop, the inevitable Bud Jamison. There follows a vaguely Griffith-style chase, unusual for Chaplin. Lots of skidding, though. Then the couple steal a jalopy, though whether it’s actually a jitney (hire-cab) is unclear to me. Charlie unscrews the radiator cap and drops a coin in to make it go.

The “bad guys” (the forces of order) steal a car of their own, beating up the owner in their zeal. We drive past a huge windmill, a moment of sightseeing and majestic scale highly untypical of Chaplin at this time. Something about the giant rotating arms seems to confuse the drivers, who throw their vehicles into meaningless spins, like spiders on LSD. At one point, a missing-frames jump cut makes a car vanish before our eyes, apported to Meliesville.

Chaplin doesn’t seem inspired to come up with any proper gags in this scenario, but he tries out traveling shots taken alongside his car, dynamic depth compositions with the autos passing a whisker’s breadth from the camera, and various other visual strategies that didn’t normally interest him.

Charlie stops to load up with bricks, then has engine trouble. His pursuers, mere seconds behind in the preceding shot, never arrive in this one. Fixing the motor, he cocks his snook at them, drives off, and then we see the enemy trailing behind him by the exact same margin they were at before.

The bricks come in handy, knocking Bud from his seat into the road. We pause for a jalopy duel in a really interesting neighbourhood. Apparently this is San Francisco, and when you know that, the vertical structures make a bit more sense, as does the foggy diffusion effect. Though it’s weird to see people building UP in a flat, open area of quasi-suburban sprawl.

Chaplin is often criticised for his lack of interest in scenic values, so enjoy the novelty while you can. It’s not clear to me that this fresh architecture adds anything really useful to his cinema, it’s just mildly interesting to see.

Finally, the pursuing car is nudged into the bay, and Edna laughs wickedly at what seems to be her father’s demise, then puckers up for a chaste kiss from her rescuer, interrupted by an abrupt cut to black.

Interesting to see Chaplin try the kind of car chase associated more with Keystone but which he didn’t really do when he was there. He missed the chance to be the first one to go up and down those wretched hills, though.

The Sunday Intertitle: Edna

Posted in FILM with tags , , on April 11, 2021 by dcairns

I think this must be the worst “joke” or attempted joke in any Chaplin film. I think the next generation of Chaplin scholars should devote themselves to finding a plausible reason to believe he didn’t write it.

We know Charlie’s brother Sydney revamped the intertitles of many of the Keystone films. Perhaps we could devise a way to attribute the above disaster of a pun to the cannibal in the family? Sydney is the only member of the clan of whom it might be said that, if he were responsible for the intertitle, it still wouldn’t be the worst thing he ever did.

The film is A JITNEY ELOPEMENT, another film from Chaplin’s busy April, 1915. I will say more about it anon.