Archive for Charlie Chaplin

On the Tiles

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2021 by dcairns

For his second Essanay film, Chaplin upped sticks and left Chicago to Oscar Micheaux, decamping to Niles, California and taking Ben Turpin with him. There, he encountered the uneuphoniously-named Edna Purviance who became a fixture in his films until 1922, and who he would keep under contract for years and years, and who he would attempt to turn into an independent star by having Josef Von Sternberg direct her in A WOMAN OF THE SEA, a film which he subsequently shelved for unknown reasons and then seemingly destroyed for tax purposes.

Edna was characterised by a so-called friend as “a docile creature” and we perhaps see a bit of this in Chaplin’s anecdote about hypnotizing her at a party. Having bragged that he could put anyone under the influence, he leaned in close and whispered to her, “Fake it!” A good sport, she complied, and the bond was forged.

Edna is just one of a couple of girls Charlie flirts with during his drunken debauch here. There are also a lot of men in false beards, some of which disguise the thrifty repurposing of cast members (you pay your actors by the day, not the role, so work them, damnit). The “plot” is just Charlie & Ben on the razzle, but then a farce situation develops when Edna innocently finds herself in a compromising situation (in her pajamas in Charlie’s hotel room) after trying to retrieve her dog. Mabel Normand had played this exact situation the previous year in CAUGHT IN THE RAIN. But this is a better film.

Turpin continues to be an aggressive near-equal in screen time. The knockabout teamwork is at least as good as the taut routines Chaplin had worked out with Chester Conklin, so it’s a shame BT didn’t get a later cameo the way CC did in MODERN TIMES. David Robinson describes him as “one of the best comedy partners Chaplin ever found,” while describing him as resembling a prematurely hatched bird. But a feisty one! Chaplin used faint praise: his “stooge” “seemed to know the ropes.” It’s said the two didn’t get on, with Turpin impatient with Chaplin’s methods. Still, there’s more to Turpin than strabismus: Chaplin rarely gives anyone but the leading lady a close-up, so Turpin has to depend on his considerable physical skills to get the laughs, rather than falling back on his crossed eyes (ouch).

Bud Jamison, who had also come from the Chicago branch, is an effective heavy, playing the first insanely violent headwaiter in the Chaplinverse, anticipating Eric Campbell’s terrifying brute in THE IMMIGRANT. Having him turn up later as a jealous husband is smart plotting.

The bit that actually made me laugh out loud is Charlie trying to get toothpaste on his brush, and then forgetting why he’s doing it, while paralytically drunk. I say it again — Chaplin’s father was killed by his alcoholism — and his early comedy depends disproportionately on wringing comedy from abject inebriation.

I realize this isn’t as in-depth as previous posts. But I think I’ll go back to this film for more — especially as I am shocked — shocked! — to discover that my sepia DVD version has, unlike the more pristine YouTube print, actual intertitles!

Update

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on February 7, 2021 by dcairns

I was going to quickly grab an intertitle from A NIGHT OUT, Chaplin’s second Essanay production, but THERE ARE NONE. It’s like THE LAST LAUGH, only with more actual laughs. Actually it starts like THE ROUNDERS and turns into MABEL’S STRANGE PREDICAMENT, continuing Chaplin’s habit of remaking early Keystones in more sophisticated ways.

I’ll write about it properly in about a week. Right now I’m still absurdly busy. After the weekend I will only be disastrously busy, as I’m going from a feature-length documentary compressed into a silly amount of time, to a regular video essay compressed into a silly amount of time. Looking forward to the relief.

The Sunday Intertitle: Bronchial Mixture

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2021 by dcairns

I wanted to see a typical “Broncho” Billy film to admire his gunplay, but the first one I came up with, HIS REGENERATION, isn’t typical at all. Firstly, Chaplin is in it. Secondly, at some point Essanay decided to capitalize on his walk-on appearance by making him the top-billed star and erasing poor Broncho. Thirdly, it’s not a western. I remain unsure how much of Gilbert M. Anderson’s post-GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY were the western’s he’s most associated with. He seems to have made quite a few comedies.

But, with his strange, unhandsome countenance, Anderson does seem to have played a lot of “good bad man” roles, like William S. Hart a bit later, and the modern crime story HIS REGENERATION (not a rip-off of Raoul Walsh’s feature-length gangland epic THE REGENERATION, it came out months prior) exemplifies this.

Since I was a newcomer to Broncho, I at first struggled to tell him apart from the man he fights at the start of this movie. It’s a good fight, though, and the cutaways to enthralled/horrified extras, really enhances the drama. Broncho seems like a good director.

What he should never have allowed is the appearance by Chaplin, which throws the whole thing off. Chaplin’s whole style of acting, or indeed being, is antithetical to the slightly underplayed melodrama going on with Anderson. Of course it turned out well for the star, whose company produced the short and profited by cashing in on CC’s cameo, but it wrecks the movie, which is disjointed anyway. The whole barroom opening is disconnected from what follows, and the film’s entire plot takes place during the subsequent burglary sequence.

Still, Anderson’s performance is very good — he uses his eyes well, although the darkened eyelids is a strange piece of make-up. But the delicate little raising of those kohl-smeared lids set in that big, harsh face on that big, burly body makes for an electrifying contrast. In the burglary, he and his partner black up completely for nightwork, so the whites of their eyes pop out of the gloom like characters in a cartoon blackout. But with added luminous shirt collars.

Incidentals: the guy Broncho fights is future director Lloyd Bacon; Ben Turpin’s wife Carrie is somewhere in there (I want to picture her with matching crossed eyes but of course no); future Preston Sturges players Snub Pollard and Vic Potel are in the mix.

HIS REGENERATION stars Alkali Ike; Frozen Body of Jasper Adams; Adenoid Hynkel; Princess of Dawsbergen; Director of Comedies (uncredited); A. Panther; Madame Zola (uncredited); Faulty Shooter (uncredited); and Mr. McKeewie.