Archive for Eric Campbell

The Sunday Intertitle: Fudge Party

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 16, 2014 by dcairns


This isn’t what it looks like! The chap in the bowler is not Chaplin, he’s Billy West, best-known and often considered most skilled of a bandwagon-full of Chaplin impersonators plying their piteous trade in the teens and early twenties, capitalizing on the Little Fellow’s sole conspicuous weakness –unlike his baggy-panted plagiarists, he was only one man. Since Chaplin couldn’t supply enough product to keep the public laughing non-stop every minute of the day, armies of aspirant clowns picked up canes and glued on moustaches (even Stan Laurel and Chaplin’s own brother Sydney are supposed to have gotten in on the act, while the most blatant imitator styled himself Kaplan and got sued by his prototype). West copies some of Chaplin’s mannerisms and invents others in keeping with his general aristocratic manner, but HE’S IN AGAIN isn’t actually very funny…

The “plot” in which West continually gains readmission to a dance hall/beer hall, hinges on repetition, and West clanks through his routines and subroutines like a robot waiter from SLEEPER, the whole thing illustrating Henri Bergson’s theories about the nature of comedy being mechanical. But the human Chaplin transformed into a jerking machine, a clockwork orange, in MODERN TIMES is funny — there’s the absurd confluence of the organic and mechanical of which Bergson wrote — West’s precise mimicry excludes the human element altogether and has all the joie de vivre of an assembly line.

The burly eyebrows on the left isn’t Eric Campbell, of course, but another impersonator (even Chaplin’s supporting players are mimicked!), Babe Hardy, later more famous as Oliver.

Also appearing is the film’s director, Chas. Parrot, who would also become better known under another name, that of Charley Chase.


I have no idea what this means. Probably filthy.

And West squeezes in one more impersonation, dragging up as exotic dancer Beda Thara…

The St Andrew’s Day Intertitle

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 2, 2013 by dcairns


Finding intertitles from late movies to write about for the blogathon is always an interesting task. This one is from THE ADVENTURER, and it qualifies because this 1917 Chaplin short is the last appearance — or one of the last, he made four films that year — of Chaplin heavy Eric Campbell.

Chaplin never did find anyone to replace Campbell, although this arguably pushed his plots into more adventurous terrain. Soon after this, the leading lady stops being automatically Edna Purviance, and stops being a stock figure. The villains become a more variegated bunch, and the days of “a park, a pretty girl and a policeman” are over, in favour of more ambitious and sprawling narratives.


THE ADVENTURER is much more sophisticated than any Keystone knockabout, but it’s still a very tight and simple farce, with Chaplin as escaped convict wooing Edna while trying to avoid the clutches (and truncheons) of the law and the machinations of music hall cad Campbell.

This same year, Campbell, who had a history of drunk driving, finally removed himself from the silent comedy gene pool in an auto smash. His ashes remained unclaimed for thirty-five years, and ended up in an unmarked grave somewhere at Rosedale Cemetery.

He’s an interesting figure. Kevin Macdonald made a documentary about him, CHAPLIN’S GOLIATH, predicated largely on Campbell’s status as a Scottish immigrant to Hollywood and funded by Scottish TV. Part of the film shows the placement of a memorial in the town of Dunoon, Campbell’s claimed birthplace.

But it turns out Campbell wasn’t from Scotland at all. He just liked to say he was.

He apparently thought it sounded more glamorous than Cheshire, or more in tune with the image of the burly, tough hard-drinking lummox. One wonders how Macdonald could avoid stumbling across this fact at some point in the course of making his extensively researched 54-minute film…


It can at least be said that Campbell went out on a high, with THE ADVENTURER, THE IMMIGRANT, THE CURE and EASY STREET all appearing in that last year. Any one of them would ensure him glowering, mad-eyed immortality.

Charlie Chaplin – The Mutual Films volume 2 (1916) [DVD]

Charlie Chaplin – Essanay & Mutual 3-Disc Steelbook Collection [DVD]

Charlie Chaplin Short Comedy Classics – The Complete Restored Essanay & Mutual Collection

The Sunday Intertitle: Monologues in front of Burning Cities

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2009 by dcairns

From Chaplin’s THE FIREMAN (1916) — I had to pick a short to watch since I was way behind on my silent-movie viewing and wanted something I could see quickly and write about. And then it turned out that this movie had no intertitles whatsoever for practically the first half. Which worked fine, except Chaplin was limited to basic kicking-up-the-arse slapstick by the lack of any verbal content.

Edna Purviance, the most consistently badly-dressed woman in all cinema, with future director Lloyd Bacon, Chaplin, and Big Eric.

Chief enemy in the film is fire chief Eric Campbell, Chaplin’s semi-permanent antagonist in all the Mutual shorts. A colossal, hard-drinking Scotsman from Dunoon, Campbell eventually wiped himself out with his persistent drunk driving. Fellow Scot Kevin MacDonald made a nice little documentary about the big fellow, hampered by the fact that no interviews or real documentary footage exists (just a few home movies on Chaplin’s set, and some deleted scenes and outtakes) and absolutely nobody is alive who met Campbell. Nevertheless, MacDonald tells a decent story, although he erroneously claims Campbell as the first Scottish movie star: several others have been nominated for this position, although Campbell is the best-remembered.

A spectacular miniature, complete with mini-firemen, in THE BELLS GO DOWN.

By what seemed at the time like a coincidence, but probably wasn’t, I also found myself running THE BELLS GO DOWN, directed by Basil Dearden from a screenplay by Roger MacDougall, made at Ealing in 1943. It’s sort of the multi-strand network narrative comedy-drama version of the more celebrated quasi-documentary FIRES WERE STARTED, which disgracefully I still haven’t seen. Both are about volunteer firemen in Blitz-torn London, and have the urgency that comes from being made at the time. And while the contemporaneous war could easily have resulted in propagandistic and dishonest filmmaking, my feeling is that it doesn’t, here. Any jingoistic qualities are mitigated by the fact that the movie deals with civilians trying to survive, not soldiers trying to win, and in common with a lot of British wartime filmmaking, the emphasis is on celebrating the struggle of the little fellow, and the values of British society at the time.

Our Scottish fire chief in this movie is Finlay Currie, and further interest is provided by Mervyn John’s professional thief who uses the fire service as a sort of cover, and by William Hartnell (the first Doctor Who, much later), a veteran of the Spanish Civil War who gets all the words of wisdom MacDougall’s literate script has to offer. When air raids on London seem unlikely, the firemen are laughed at for being useless:

“Our cities are still behind the lines. When someone starts to pin medals on us, it’ll mean they’ve moved right up to the front. It’ll mean… another Rotterdam, another Warsaw. Right here in England. They’ll call us heroes if it comes to that. I’d rather they went on laughing.”

There’s also James Mason, with a not-totally comfortable cockney accent, but a fine, emotive face, especially handsome when smeared with soot and sweat, and cheeky chappie funnyman Tommy Trinder, a very strange piece of casting, since he’s inescapably music-hall in everything he does, a floating slice of theatre adrift amid the spectacular miniature dioramas of flame-engulfed London. Essentially a sort of elongated Ray Davies figure, only with the good cheer turned up to eleven, he nevertheless injects some surprise and pleasure into the movie, even while threatening to punch a hole in it below the credibility waterline. Caught making unauthorized use of fire station phones, he’s told, “You can’t do that!”

“No, I can. Most people can’t. I’m different!”

It’s a given that stirring dramas like this will show its disparate crew of selfish civilians putting their own needs and differences aside for the national good (that aspect IS straight propaganda), but Tommy’s transition from clown to hero is effected with surprising grace and narrative ruthlessness. Impressive stuff, and not just for the model shots.

Charlie Chaplin – The Mutual Films – Vol. 1 [1916] [DVD]

Charlie Chaplin – The Mutual Films – Vol. 2 [DVD]


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