Archive for Easy Street

Herring and Hawing

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 6, 2022 by dcairns

Back to THE GREAT DICTATOR.

Hynkel furiously tearing a strip out of Herring is funny. Tearing off his medals, later on, will be funnier still. Though Billy Gilbert’s Herring does not much resemble the real Goering in character, (he’s more like HIS GIRL FRIDAY’s Joe Pettibone) other than being a fat man, Goering loved his medals. Hitler knew this, and would invent special medals just to be able to reward Goering with them. Curiously, Hitler does not seem to have despised Goering for this pathetic love of meaningless ornaments, and still expected his Luftwaffe to win the war against Britain. Fortunately for us, Goering’s strategic thinking was outmoded, fixed by his experiences as a fighter ace in WWI.

Goering’s habit of dressing in green tights and makeup when at his hunting estate, a kind of Tyrolean Robin Hood drag (think Burt Lancaster in THE FLAME AND THE ARROW, but with the body of Billy Gilbert) is not reproduced here, for which we can be thankful.

Standard politician joke — Hynkel is given a baby to kiss (Monty Python Hitler joke: “Well I gave him my baby to kiss and he bit it on the head.”) and finds it unexpectedly moist. A gag Chaplin has reliably mined since I think at least EASY STREET. Beautifully played, though — we get the joke merely by the frozen position of his hand when he’s relieved of the baby (after it has relieved itself).

Then more model shots: entrusting gags to the SFX department requires faith and close oversight, but these are pretty safe: statues of the Venus de Milo and the Thinker zieg heiling. The Thinker would be even more admirable if it were simply allowed to pass by in the background, but Chaplin carefully cuts to a closer view (same footage used as rear projection plate, now presented as a shot in its own right) to make sure we notice.

Garbitsch, seen here as the brains of the outfit, encourages Hynkel to instigate more antisemitic violence, and Chaplin’s mention of the word “ghetto” motivates a cut to said place — quaintly provided with its own decorative sign.

MORE SOON

The Sunday Intertitle: He couldn’t get arrested

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2022 by dcairns

When a man who wants to go to jail meets a girl who doesn’t want to go to jail, you have a pretty good meet cute on your hands. Paulette Goddard stares in bewilderment at Charlie as he voluntarily takes the rap for her loaf-snatching. (As Elaine May explains in Mike Nichols: A Life, you should only steal flat things. Bread is too bulky. An Elaine May purloined sandwich would consist of a slice of cheese between two steaks. This doesn’t apply if you happen to be Divine, who could shoplift portable televisions, but who among us is Divine?) Charlie appears to her as both hero and lunatic — a fairly accurate impression of him, given what he’s seen.

We can see MODERN TIMES as Charlie’s origin story — fittingly enough, since it’s his last appearance as The Tramp (the Jewish barber in THE GREAT DICTATOR both is and is not the Tramp). It’s like Clint Eastwood acquiring his poncho at the end of THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY — Charlie starts as one worker among many, then loses his job and his wits, is put back together by Dr. Ludovico, then finds he can’t settle into any one role, and exchanges his profession for “a life of aimless wandering” as Ulysses Everett McGill might put it.

The Gamin will play a central role — as an underclass wanderer herself, she can show him the ropes.

But for now, Charlie’s noble and opportunistic deceit is thwarted when the “Stop, thief!” busybody puts the finger on the Gamin.

There’s a funny exchange when Charlie extends the appropriated bread product. He shows it to the cop, who shows it to the baker, saying something like “Is this your loaf?” and the baker nods earnestly.

Having failed as criminal samaritan, Charlie decides to eat a hearty meal and refuse to pay, a gratifying and near-victimless way of getting arrested. There’s something very beautiful about the shot of him sliding his mountainous trays along the counter. The scenario puts me in mind of the melancholy death of Clyde Bruckman, Keaton’s old gag man and co-director, who, hard-up since the coming of sound, and sued by Harold Lloyd for recycling gags from THE FRESHMAN for a Three Stooges short, borrowed Keaton’s gun, ate a hearty meal at a swank eatery, and then shot himself dead in the phone kiosk.

There’s no good way to go, but that one has admirable as well as regrettable aspects.

Charlie compounds his initial impudence by smoking a cigar, which he also can’t pay for, while under arrest. Style. You’ve either got it or you haven’t.

Charlie has learned the secret of not caring about society.

Meet cute 2 — in the black maria or paddy wagon if one can still use that expression. After being nauseated by a dyspeptic “gypsy” (Chaplin traducing the Romany people again — in spite of his own probably heritage), Charlie meets the Gamin now that she’s rearrested. The police wagon is surprisingly similar to a bus, and I guess we’re not in the south as there’s a black lady passenger, who Charlie sits on by accident, thrice. Knowing his humour, he’d probably have preferred to sit on a dignified dowager, but it’s not probable that one would be present. Is it, arguably, a compliment that Chaplin instead chooses to settle his tiny bottom on this dour, thick-set woman? She does have dignity, despite her lowly status.

The van is moving very fast (rear projection), hence Charlie’s unsteadiness. A little too fast, as it now crashes and with one bound our heroes are free. Actually, it’s unclear if it crashes — it does a wheelie, seemingly, leaning over at a 45 degree angle with screeching tyres. The implication is that it’s come to rest leaning against a lamppost or something (maybe the one Eric Campbell urigellered in EASY STREET?). But anyway, Charlie and the G are OUT. The kop who’s fallen out with them can easily be reconcussed so they may make good their escape.

Beautiful shot of Paulette waiting at the corner for him to join her. In the foreground, trash cans — his present. In the background, a billboard showing a car, pointed in the direction of escape — the future!

Her closeup reveals an even more pointed detail: a second billboard, showing some kind of pioneer couple, he gesturing towards the landscape ahead — a role-reversal of our current scene. Kudos to production designer Charles D-for-Danny Hall.

Charlie considers whether to escape or not. A Look To Camera is indicated. I should be able to tell you if this is his first in the film, but I can’t remember. It could be. Which would make it his first ever, if this is his origin story. He at first doesn’t intend to go, but what the hell — he can always get himself rearrested later. The G, who has been visibly upset, obviously needs a friend. The decision to escape = the decision to be a Tramp, but it’s not a FINAL one — he will attempt other professions throughout the film, as the Tramp would throughout Chaplin’s career.

FADE OUT. FADE IN — on the road. We are halfway through the film. TO BE CONTINUED.

The Stripey Hole

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

The prison sequence in MODERN TIMES contributes to the film’s episodic feeling. Nothing that’s planted here is used later. Chaplin could have had himself arrested and placed immediately into a van with Paulette, I think. But, on the other hand, placing our first glimpse of her “Gamin” before the prison term helps tie the different parts of the film together. And the prison sequence is very funny. I wonder if any of the ideas here came from CITY LIGHTS, where the Tramp has a spell inside which we never see (and quite rightly).

Cast into dungeons dark dank and donk — Charlie shares a cell with, of all people, Prince Barin from FLASH GORDON, made this same year. I knew if I kept blogging for a decade and a half things would start to make sense. (Paulette Goddard’s later work with QUIEN SABE?’s Damiano Damiani in LA NOIA is another charming connection, and I’ve already pointed out how FLASH recycles sets from FRANKENSTEIN designed by Charles D. Hall, who is also responsible for the production design in MODERN TIMES) Charlie is perturbed by Barin’s needlepoint. Having this big guy — a more naturalistic Eric Campbell — thread a needle in your direction is, from Charlie’s alarmed reaction, like gazing down the barrel of a gun.

Dissolve when the convicts go to dinner indicates to me that Chaplin has made a trim. I always liked the cheap gag of his meal being ladled into his plate while he’s otherwise occupied, and when he discovers the slop has apported in front of him, he looks upwards as if some passing seagull must be responsible. Silly and low and wonderful.

NOSE-POWDER! This is an excuse to have Charlie turn into a heroic berserker warrior, as he did in EASY STREET. It’s also a surprising post-code drug reference. How was it allowed? It’s true that Charlie doesn’t consciously take the drugs, and the drugs are being smuggled by bad guys. And Charlie uses the illicit substance as a condiment, rather than shooting up as he did (accidentally) in EASY STREET. But the seven-per-cent solution turning him into an unstoppable crimefighter seems like not the message Joe Breen was anxious to get out.

Anyway, I love the dramatic iris-in on the drug connection. A technique audiences of 1936 would not have been accustomed to seeing on their screens for close to a decade. The IMDb doesn’t seem to know who this guy is. I would like that information.

Love the dynamic pan to the salt cellar. Chaplin’s camera is already getting hyper. Now we get to see Charlie deliver a masterclass in what he imagines coke is like. It’s very moreish, apparently. In case we struggle to imagine how eating the stuff would work (oh, it would work, I think), Chaplin has himself wipe the stuff across his lower face so he can also inhale it.

Distracted by Prince Barin — under the influence, does Charlie see the guy abruptly clad in a breast plate and plumed helmet? — Charlie attempts to deliver a forkful of cocaine mush into his right ear. Like William Lee in NAKED LUNCH, reaching for a cigarette on the wrong side of his mouth, he has forgotten where his face is.

The ebullience Charlie now feels — showing Prince Barin where he can get off — does seem like plausible cokehead arrogance. Rotating mechanically on the spot when the convicts are sent back to their cells does not. It’s Harpo zaniness, and another illustration of Henri Bergson’s notion that comedy comes from people behaving like machines.

In a daze, Charlie accidentally escapes, and is panic-stricken when the call of a cuckoo brings him back to reality. An interesting use of sound — the bird does not appear.

JAILBREAK! One of the two gunmen is Frank Moran, with his “wrecked jeep of a face” (Manny Farber), a few years before he became a favourite player of Preston Sturges (“Psycho-lology!”)

Charlie thwarts the breakout with a dashing display of Peruvian courage, reacting to gunfights with flashing fists, as if he could deflect bullets with his cuffs like Wonder Woman (he won’t get magic cuffs until the end of the movie) and defeats his enemies by using an iron door as an offensive weapon. Charlie has been able to play the upright citizen, but only while coked out of his face, which I suppose makes it acceptable.

MODERN TIMES star Adenoid Hynkel; Lucretia Borgia; Fat Whiskered German Soldier / The Kaiser’s General / Bartender; Porthos; Mr. Whoozis; Norwegian Radio Listener (uncredited); The Millionaire’s Butler; Prince Barin; Cardinal Richelieu; Eggs; Frederick F. Trumble (uncredited); Tough Chauffeur;