Archive for Eric Campbell

The Sunday Intertitle: Chaplin and Comic Suspense

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on January 17, 2016 by dcairns

Weird online copy of Chaplin’s THE IMMIGRANT with subtitles in place of intertitles. The thing is, most of Chaplin is out of copyright — ALL American films made before 1920 are public domain — but the good restorations are all copyright the people who made them. If you have this on DVD, watch that instead.

Synopsis: economic migrant Charlie comes to America in search of a better standard of living. Damn him! How dare he?

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Though the first half of this nakedly two-part movie has some strong stuff, especially Charlie looking twice at the Stature of Liberty, the second section, kicking in at the ten-minute mark, builds to a striking crescendo of comic terror, all based around wannabe Scotsman Eric Campbell’s murderous head waiter. Comedy and fear really go together well, but I don’t see much today that really exploits anxiety on behalf of a sympathetic character in order to get shriller laughs. For instance, just enjoyed the first episode of the lumberingly-titled but fleet-footed Ash Vs Evil Dead, and it’s alternately suspenseful and hilarious, but there’s almost a firewall between the laughs and scares, and character sympathy was never a big part of the first three movies. I’ll definitely be watching more, though, and Ash’s new buddies are likable so who knows?

I vividly remember watching THE IMMIGRANT with my mum, who gets very excited during suspenseful bits (her mother was even more fun to view with — scenes of high tension would cause her arms and legs to rise in the air as if on strings. My dream as filmmaker is to make a packed house of five hundred people all do this at once). Chaplin, struggling into the story by his usual method of rehearsing and filming until things found the right form, devised a clear menace, plausibly put his hero in its path, and then let him squirm. “Comedy is a man in trouble,” as the saying goes. It’s not certain if his companion, Edna Purviance, is also in danger, or if she will merely be a witness to his punitive drubbing, but either way her presence amplifies the menace.

Freud announced, with typical fatuity but unusual accuracy, that Chaplin was “a very simple case” — compelled to relive the humiliation of poverty in his art. Like the traumatic slap endlessly replayed in HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, Chaplin’s career was a reenactment of his childhood. No wonder the role of the Tramp came to oppress him.

The Monday Intertitle: Brave

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on December 7, 2015 by dcairns

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Sometimes the Sunday Intertitle switches to Monday. Because consistency is the hobgoblin of small men, and I am large, I contain multitudes of those guys.

Chaplin’s THE ADVENTURER counts as a late film (his last?) for Eric Campbell, the outsize fake Scotsman. In fact, Campbell’s entire career is late, compressing enough varied villainy into just a couple of years to ensure his screen legend status for eternity, or what we can anticipate of eternity.

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As a kid, I instantly loved Chaplin, because he was something like a cheeky kid himself, and I loved Campbell because he was big and operatic. After his early death, Chaplin never really replaced him, and in a way this sent Chaplin into more realistic storylines. No story containing Campbell’s eyebrows, even without the optional Svengali beard, could ever be realistic.

THE ADVENTURER tells its story briskly, with minimal titles — generally they set up a scene in a few words, then let it play out as pure knockabout. Big Eric is introduced showing off his muscles to Edna Purviance (that NAME! oh dear), then soon everyone has fallen in the water, to be rescued by an escaped convict in stolen swimwear (Chaplin). In wet trousers we see what an enormous arse Eric has. No wonder he successfully passed himself off as a Scotsman for so long.

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Thanks to all who participated in, and read, The Late Show late Films Blogathon this year! The world’s smallest blogathon just got smaller.

The Sunday Intertitle: Fudge Party

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

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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.

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I have no idea what this means. Probably filthy.

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

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