Archive for Edna Purviance

Parklife

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

I should really have written about the one-reeler IN THE PARK last month, because that’s when it came out. I don;t mean March 2021, I mean March 1915. Though Chaplin slowed down his furious pace of production when he moved from Keystone to Essanay, this slight film came out a week after THE CHAMPION, and probably hadn’t taken much longer to plan, shoot and cut.

Immediate Leo White! He’s in a top hat so we can expect him to suck on some abuse shortly. He’s also making out with his girly on a bench, while Edna Purviance, graced with a medium close shot, looks on in a transport of vicarious romantic emotion. We know that’s what it is because the book she’s brought to read is called Why They Married (I looked it up: it’s a real book, by James Montgomery Flagg. I’m not going to read it, though, as I’m certain Chaplin never did).

This sequence seems to have been shot during a lightish but persistent drizzle, which everyone is improbably ignoring. But it could just be print damage, doing a fantastic imitation of rain: it seems sunny, too.

Charlie is introduced having his pocket picked by an unskilled hobo wearing clown stubble. The guy is so bad, Charlie picks his pocket while he thinks he’s picking Charlie’s pocket. Then Charlie watches Leo White and his girl getting it on for a while — a popular spectator sport, seemingly.

Bud Jamison turns up as Edna’s beau. Charlie had been using him as a Goliath foil, but here he seems well-suited to the part of straw-hatted Bunter. Suddenly he’s all eagerness, freed from the obligation to glower.

Edna is playing a nursemaid but she can’t be very good at it: she’s forgotten the baby. Hopefully she just left it at home and the poor thing’s not floating in Echo Park Lake as we watch the shenanigans here. (Did Essanay crews sometimes collide with Keystone crews while shooting park films? Yes, I’ve just decided, “park films” is a genre.)

After briefly annoying Leo (yes, the cane pokes the topper), Charlie spots Edna and starts flirting manically. She response with demure enthusiasm, because chicks dig tramps coming on to them. They don’t find it gross or threatening. Ever. Edna is so delighted she even shoots a shy glance at the camera, or at her sympathetic chums, the audience, showing an ability to break or at least puncture the fourth wall that Chaplin is increasingly reserving for himself.

A guess: Chaplin may have added these shots to enhance sympathy for his character. because when he joins Edna on her bench, she’s frosty to him, and he behaves like an annoying masher, even throwing one leg across her lap like a hobo Harpo (and Adolph Marx certainly saw a few Chaplin shorts in his no-doubt misspent youth).

The incompetent thief — future Warners director Lloyd Bacon — snatches Leo White’s date’s purse from the bench.

This exciting melodrama pauses while we watch Bud Jamison buy a sausage. And then take a gulp from a drinking fountain seemingly built into a tree. This is the kind of amazing stuff you simply don’t get in modern films.

The sausage seller is played by Ernest Van Pelt, who is in a couple more Chaplins, notably THE TRAMP.

The park is a wretched hive of scum and villainy — another hobo tries to rob the sausage vendor, smacking him about the face in a vicious battle for the coveted meat products. Charlie, having been seen off by Edna’s beau, joins the melee, walloping the attacker and then, naturally, filching a string of sausages while the vendor is shaking his hand in thanks. Then slapping the poor guy in the face with his own meat and legging it.

The dangling links also serve as a useful mace to knock Leo’s hat off, and then Charlie stuffs them in his jacket pocket, a loose end protruding for him to munch on in his usual unsanitary fashion. (Maybe this is a prequel to THE CHAMPION, showing how he came by the solitary sausage with which he starts that movie?) Just to amuse himself, Charlie experiments with stripper chest movements, by which he can swing the sausages up into his own gaping face-hole. Well, we’ve all done it.

The stolen purse now travels, in a series of filchings, from Bacon (who, appropriately, given his name, is drawn to Charlie’s sausages) to Charlie, to Bud, and back to Charlie. Then to Bud, Charlie, Bacon, Bud… I lost track. Then of course a cop (there’s always a cop — and we don’t call them kops any more, that’s a slur) shows up to make everyone want to disown the hot property they were just squabbling over.

As soon as the cop’s gone there’s a great threeway battle, deploying various kicks, roundhouse slaps, and even some brick-throwing for old time’s sake, enacted across a variety of variously damaged print fragments. Leo and his date are both bashed comatose by stray masonry, a brutal gag softened by the sweet sight of them sinking into unconsciousness together, her head on his shoulder.

As last clown standing, Charlie hooks the purse and departs, pausing to smash Leo deeper into unconsciousness, then falls into Edna’s baby carriage (good thing the occupant’s been abandoned somewhere in the middle of Sunset Blvd, he might have been hurt). Pausing only to hurl a brick and re-knock out Bud Jamison, he then flirts some more, and gifts the purse to her — she’s virtually the only character not to have held it thus far, so only fair she should get a shot of it. The cop turns up, Charlie flees.

The slumbering Bud makes a handy ashtray. People are always objects to Charlie, at least potentially. On the other hand, objects are potentially people. Or other objects. The natural state of the universe is flux. Bud soon awakens, spitting fag-ash from under his cookie-duster, and is outraged to see Charlie making heavily made-up eyes at his girl.

Charlie is seen off to another bench — the short is a fantastic guide to the variety of park furniture available in 1915 Los Angeles, which could possibly be useful to someone in some context I can’t quite visualise.

Leo and his lady awaken and the missing purse is discovered (missing). I’ve been calling it a purse, the IMDb calls it a pocketbook, but Leona Anderson clearly mouths the words “My bag” several times. So it’s a bag. And Leona is “Broncho” Billy Anderson’s little sister, and also the creator of what Wikipedia calls her “1957 shrill music album Music to Suffer By.” I’m not going to read Edna’s book but I HAD to listen to Leona’s record. Here’s a sample, appropriately enough a BURLESQUE ON CARMEN:

Poor Leo, meanwhile, is suicidal, proposing in a barnstormer’s wide gestures to toss himself in the lake. Charlie happens by and is enlisted as helper. There’s a brief moment where he looks set to mine the profitable “I’m dealing with a lunatic” thing he made such great effects out of later (dealing with the drunken millionaire in CITY LIGHTS) but then he simply falls in obligingly with the plan. Leo is to be propelled into the drink by a boot up the arse, so it’s certainly within Charlie’s bailiwick. He tenderly lifts Leo’s coat tails so the kick shall have its proper impact.

Leo, precipitated into the pond, blows a farewell kiss and submerges himself. It seems he’s just going to sit on the lake bed and drown himself in four feet of water.

Bud Jamison meanwhile is hauled off by the law after being found in possession of Miss Anderson’s bag, but then suspicion falls on Charlie. Well, if it worked once… Charlie kicks Bud and the cop into the lake. So, they’re wet, but Leo is dead. The end.

I guess the suicide business was something floating around in Chaplin’s mind that he knew he wanted to do something with. CITY LIGHTS is where he managed it, with the bipolar rich drunk. So it took about sixteen years to click. But it was worth it.

Charlie the Champion

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2021 by dcairns

So, Leo White just turned up in THE CHAMPION, playing the kind of mock-melodramatic villain Chaplin himself had essayed a few times at Keystone. He’s impressively sleekit. He went on to bit parts in feature films up until the forties, including MR. SKEFFINGTON and CASABLANCA (I guess everybody really DOES come to Rick’s). I imagine he’d changed his look by then.

Unusual to see three short people in a row: silent slapsticks thrived on physical contrasts. Also unusual: Edna gets a medium shot. It’s simply used as a cutaway, which is what Chaplin did with most of his closer angles.

The Snidely type offers Charlie five big ones to take a fall, wafting the notes under his nose until the bribee attempts to filch one with his teeth. An oft-repeated gag: Legree keeps slapping Charlie on the back, heartily, until he gets laid out with a retaliatory slap. Charlie then pockets the money — it’s not certain that he intends to take a dive, but he may not have the option.

On waking up, Dastardly actually says “Curses!” and gives a little invisible maracas-type wag of his fists. Never knowingly underplayed. He confronts Charlie. An essentially honest man, Charlie intends to simply keep the money and do nothing in return. He wrestles with his conscience — and wins. When Snidely Dastardly Legree follows him into the shower with a small pistol, he drenches the scoundrel.

The big night: Charlie’s dog, forgotten about for at least a reel, makes his return, watching as Charlie prepares for the match by slugging down beer (the thing he’s best at slugging). Charlie shakes the anonymous pooch’s paw before going to his doom. The dog’s expression, indeed its whole attitude, is pretty funny.

And “Broncho” Billy Anderson, Charlie’s employer at Essanay, makes a cameo in the front row of the audience. Simon Dick Whiplash has just sat down on him by mistake.

Moments later, Ben Turpin, sans cookie-duster, appears as a belligerent ringside vendor, clambering over the audience to deliver his wares.

In Charlie’s last fight, in THE KNOCKOUT, he was the referee, and had to compete for attention with a riot of other clowns. Here, even in a wide-shot, the action is arranged so he’s always the centre of attention.

Upon catching sight of his opponent, Charlie goes into a series of overlapping faints. He then rubs his tiny buttocks in the sandbox, like a dog dealing with a dag, until they are two white spots.

What follows seems every bit as choreographed as the fight in CITY LIGHTS, but there’s less attention to character, with Chaplin simply trying whatever seems funny in the moment. It’s very skilled, but there isn’t an overarching comic idea. Charlie as coward, Charlie as incompetent, Charlie fighting while concussed… it leaps from one inspiration to another. Charlie is suddenly good enough at boxing to knock the champ down. As in CITY LIGHTS and THE KNOCKOUT, the ref gets a drubbing. Charlie discovers that when a punch from the champ sends him into a stagger, a punch from himself can revive him. The gag of the ref trying to count out two dazed boxers at once, as they keep getting up and falling down, appears here for the first time. It’s a good one.

Repeating gags, like trying to use his opponent as a chair when he’s knocked over onto his shoulders with his ass up, allows Charlie to double the laughs (slower audience members only catching on the second time round) and to emphasise the resemblance to a dance, which is a gag in itself. Keaton, who never repeated a gag, was doing things the hard way, as always.

The dog gets a closeup. Charlie’s never had one.

The fight goes from round one to round twenty when Charlie flips the card. There have in fact been multiple rounds, we’ve seen the fighters return to their corners (Charlie’s trainers “revive” him more vigorously/brutally each time) but apparently the art dept. only had one card made.

Finally, appalled at the spectacle of his master’s pulverisation, the pooch enters the ring and takes hold of Bob Uppercut’s leotards. Broncho Billy performs an expository mime in the audience, repeatedly pointing at his own derriere. The dog is swung around by his jaws but does not release Bob’s seat. It’s pulled by the hind legs. He has a death grip. He’s trailing bonelessly from his rear end, a mere carcass, all his powers of concentration invested in his teeth. This ain’t exactly Queensberry Rules, but Charlie seizes the moment just as his dog has.

Charlie has forgotten to include any cutaways of Edna during the fight — apparently she wasn’t there, but she comes in handy as a fade-out shot. Taking the romance very slightly seriously allows the film to end on something other than the climax of a chase or battle, as if it actually meant something. Later, maybe it will.

It’s a lovely shot, too.

The iron shoe in the leather glove

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2021 by dcairns

Charlie Chaplin’s THE CHAMPION — the title surely chosen for alliterative value — Part Two. Charlie has unwisely volunteered to be sparring partner to Spike Dugan, but fortunately he has picked up a horseshoe en route. Now read on…

The third sacrificial victim is stretchered out of the gym, too limp to even prop on the bench, so they tip him on the ground at Charlie’s feet to sleep off his coma. Charlie motions for the stretcher-bearers to follow him in, saving a bit of time for them since he evidently expects to be socked into slumberland in an instant.

But the fight goes rather the other way — slugging Spike when he’s not expecting it, Charlie sends his body to the floor, rolling over itself from the force of the spinning wallop, whose force owes much to the ironware concealed in CC’s mitt.

Strolling out of the gym, Charlie wallops one of the barely-recovered sparring partners for good measure, not out of any cruelty, simply because when one has a weighted glove one naturally clouts whoever’s around. Production for use.

Dugan recovers quickly, gives chase, but then turns flee-er when Charlie hits him with the shoe-fist again and also kicks him a couple of times — arse, then face, like a gentleman. The attention of the cops — no longer costume-store kops but vaguely credible policemen with one vaguely credible moustache between them — sends Charlie back to the gym, where Spike’s former handlers are eager to put this mighty atom under contract. Good gag where they carry him aloft, he high-spiritedly thumps them, and everyone falls in a heap.

A fine example of 1915 photoshopping

Meet the champ: Bob Uppercut. Arguably he’s not as scary looking as Spike Dugan, and his name is less alarming, but on the other hand he’s big enough that he doesn’t need a small mattress tucked inside his top. See that? All muscle. And fat. For Chaplin is attempting to turn his new heavy, Bud Jamison, into a suitable Goliath, a figure he would finally discover in the form of fake Scotsman Eric Campbell.

Now we see Charlie in training: he has a stripey pullover, a jug of beer, and juggling clubs, with which he duly clubs himself. He picks a fight with another punchbag, as he did earlier in this film and earlier in his career in MABEL’S MARRIED LIFE. In an excellent chapter of Silent Film Comedy entitled Accelerated Bodies and Jumping Jacks: Automata, Mannequins and Toys in the Films of Charlie Chaplin, Alan Bilton remarks upon Chaplin’s ability, indeed, compulsion, to impart life to dummies by his interactions with them. True to Bergson’s thesis about the confusion of subject and object, organic and mechanical, being key to comedy — and true to Marx’s view that capitalism stirs up the same confusion, Charlie makes an enemy of the world.

Some business with giant barbells, Charlie knocking a fellow athlete repeatedly on the head with one of the two great cannonball spheres — just a variant on the kind of business regularly conducted by silent clowns with planks. Walter Kerr remarks on Charlie’s daubing himself with beer, evidently an attempt at personal hygiene and niceness. “The presence of Edna Purviance may have had something to do with an emerging gentility.” This quality had always been present, implied, in the “shabby-genteel” costume. and we’ve seen it emerge in odd moments at Keystone. The fundamental funny thing about Chaplin’s persona may be just this unlikely combination of violence, scruffiness, poverty and ignorance, with grace, delicacy, and fine feelings. When these attributes are balanced, Chaplin can do Keystone style knockabout with a particular attitude that elevates it above mere hooliganism.

Say, where is Edna? We’re almost halfway.

Ah-hah! As “Edna, the trainer’s daughter,” she’s fetchingly dressed in a pugilist’s cap and jumper, a more appealing and shapely look than most of the frumpy frocks she usually gets (women’s clothing in American films of the teens, if you weren’t Theda Bara, were generally wretched).

Charlie starts training very hard to impress Edna, and is soon flirting intently. The unvarying wide shot allows us to see him scratching his arse while doing so, then polishing one boot on the back of the adjacent calf. Edna’s dad intervenes as Charlie is tickling her under the chins. Still, after a spot of running (the Chaplin walk becomes virtually a limp when accelerated), she’s hugging and kissing him. A pair of fast workers.

We end this post on a close-up which is Absolutely Mysterious: its positioning between scenes of Charlie and Bob Uppercut makes it initially impossible to tell what this whosis is spying on…

TO BE CONTINUED