Archive for Cruel Cruel Love

In Your Face, Elmo Lincoln!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on October 3, 2020 by dcairns

Gordon Griffith was the first screen Tarzan, in the 1918 TARZAN OF THE APES — he plays Tarzan as a boy, before Elmo steps into the loincloth. He’s also featured in THE STAR BOARDER (1914), Chaplin’s 10th film as actor, in a key role.

George Nichols directs again, but Chaplin seems to be exerting more control. His introduction here is really good. Flat on his back in bed, his hat and cane (which have returned, after being sadly absent in CRUEL, CRUEL LOVE) hung at various points around the room. There’s almost an awareness that these are iconic emblems of a famous character. He’s smoking. He rouses himself — slowly. This is daring stuff for Keystone, the perpetual motion company. But Chaplin knows how to get the audience’s interest, having done it ruthlessly on stage, and he at least suspects that the same principles apply in film.

The Chaplin costume is very slightly neater here since he’s not a hobo. But it still has all the recognizable features. His necktie having tried out being stripey, has changed its mind again and become a skinny black ribbon hung limply from an erect collar.

The eating scene is a mess — the classic Keystone clusterfuck of busy clowns, all trying to pull focus at once. Particularly egregious mugging to camera from Edgar Kennedy, screen right, seething in a voluminous false moustache. Never knowingly underplayed.

Minta Durfee is playing Mrs. Kennedy, the landlady who flirts with Charlie (well, if you were married to Edgar Kennedy…) It’s a rare character part for her. She’s usually dependable because she concentrates on reacting to co-stars and situations rather than trying to silently explain the plot to the audience, like a benshi imprisoned onscreen.

A game of tennis with the landlady. Because. Since Charlie isn’t, it seems, drunk here, it’s strange that he’s so uncoordinated, but we are learning that that the Tramp character can play people who are not tramps, do not carry their money in an old sock, etc. This will be useful stuff to grasp, going forward. There are a huge number of Chaplin shorts to be made based around the simple fact of him having a new job.

(Chaplin became a very keen tennis player in real life — I don’t know if he’d begun yet. I imagine he was very COMPETITIVE about it. Our tennis-playing directors — Chaplin and Lester — seem to live to ripe old ages. Richard Linklater may be around a long time too, as he is likewise an enthusiast of the racquet.)

Standing against some kind of wall of foliage, CC touches Minta’s breast with his stick. It’s interesting that he hasn’t used his cane much so far in his career, but clearly considers it an essential part of the character. Not for this purpose, though.

Tiny Tarzan photographs CC and Minta with his Box Brownie or whatever it is. A whole series of incriminating pictures are then taken of both the Kennedys. Like the young Mark Lewis in PEEPING TOM, he is an incipient scoptophiliac. In the pantry, Chaplin checks to see if he’s hungry by looking down into his trousers. Then he gets pissed up on booze. At last, the inevitable drunk scene! But Chaplin, perhaps hurried, forgets to do much drunk acting. The beer seems to have made him more agile and competent, if anything, though he does sit on a pie. But that’s no evidence of intoxication, we all do that.

At the climax, Charlie is once more part of an audience at a picture show, as Tiny Tarzan, without the benefit of going to a lab or chemist’s, is somehow able to project his slides of the day’s debauchery. Does this cause a big fight? It does.

Chaplin, colliding with the slideshow screen, becomes ensheeted. Tiny Tarzan gets a spanking. Edgar Kennedy pushes Charlie through a tabletop. Charlie bites Edgar’s thigh. Both fall unconscious.

Yes, well that does seem like a satisfying dramatic resolution so let’s suddenly stop the picture.

*

And — no, we’re not actually in Pordenone, but we’re attending the Silent Film Festival virtually — will post on it shortly.

Chaplin Goes to Hell

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2020 by dcairns

There’s more experimentation with Charlie Chaplin’s image in the early Keystones than I was led to believe. Since playing a drunken hobo in every film was going to start to seem unnecessarily limiting, even for Keystone, here they try him out as a drunken toff (Lord Helpus) with no bowler hat, no cane, and a more expansive moustache. Widescreen rather than pillarbox.

This movie was lost for fifty years and rediscovered in South America: Wikipedia is sparse on details. It’s directed by George Nichols & Mack Sennett — Sennett’s involvement may be evidence that Chaplin was being difficult. His first director, Henry “Pathé” Lehrman, had already walked out of Keystone because Sennett wouldn’t force Chaplin to obey orders. Since “Pathé’s” other nickname was “Mr. Suicide,” owing to his willingness to risk the lives and limbs of his cast, Chaplin and chums were probably not too sorry to see him go.

With its eavesdropping maid, comedy of misunderstanding, and drawing-room setting, this Keystone “farce comedy” does, for once, resemble a stage farce rather than crude slapstick. Chaplin had played a silly-ass villain in his very first film, here he’s a silly-ass stooge (we can’t really call him a hero). He’s at his most theatrical, a sort of Terry-Thomas figure.

The most “cinematic” moment is Helpus’s vision of the afterlife (after a work by Dante). All through this movie there are dancing snowballs of film damage, but when Helpus gets hysterical and starts reacting to an offscreen hallucination, it feels like he can see them too. “The spots!”

What kind of a proscenium does the cinema offer? Chaplin experiments with advancing into medium shot then staggering back into longshot.

Belatedly, I reach for my tattered copy of Kops and Custards: The Legend of Keystone Films (A Book) by Kalton C. Lahue and Terry Brewer. There’s a good line about Sennett believing that any gag worth doing ought to be set-up and paid-off inside twenty feet of film, whereas Chaplin might just be getting going at the end of a hundred feet. But it would be worth it. the question was, could he convince his boss and his colleagues of that?

I’m not clear, halfway through the film, if Edgar Kennedy’s laughing butler is laughing because he knows Lord Helpus hasn’t really been poisoned, or because he thinks he has. Is he a psychopath? Did the butler, for once, do it?

Is there a doctor in the film? A guy called Glen Cavender, in a big false medical-type beard, comes to the rescue. In my recent viewing of Anatole Litvak films, this guy turns up a lot in the Hollywood ones, still, thirty years after this, earning some kind of living as background mountebank along with old stagers like Creighton “I did not have sexual intercourse with that goat” Hale.

Trying to counteract the poison, Lord Helpus drinks a lot of milk, in the best Albert Hoffman tradition. It’s a good thing to do if you think you’ve been poisoned or have dosed yourself with what you then discover is LSD. A horsedrawn ambulance gallops to the rescue. There are fewer chases, but more fights, in Keystone shorts, than you’d think. There are more fights than you’d think possible.

Minta hurries to be with her poisoned lover by jalopy. Shades of Romeo and Juliet. I have to assume by now that, even if Edgar the butler knows his master isn’t fatally envenomed, he is a colossal bastard for not telling him. He’s just laughing his ass off. What a shit. Kennedy is going to spend the rest of his career paying for this.

Why does Helpus think he’s been poisoned, and why does his butler know different? “Screenwriter” Craig Hutchinson, who “wrote” all the early Chaplin shorts, doesn’t seem to have worked out any reason, and Keystone aren’t about to keep everyone on salary for months while they work it out, as Chaplin would later on CITY LIGHTS.

The two doctors, beard and no-beard, strangers to their respective Hippocratic oaths, laugh heartily at the “dying” Helpus, then give him the Heimlich manoeuvre, which had yet to be invented, for no reason. This may be the first screen iteration of the Choking Chaplin Meme.

Minta, the only character with a shred of human feeling, at last tells Helpus that he’s not doomed. Everybody starts fighting for no reason. An ecstatic clinch between Helpus and Minta.

Lord Helpus is never seen again.