Archive for Phyllis Allen

The Sunday Intertitle: Domestic Blistering

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2021 by dcairns
Low-res turns Keystone’s crisply restored images into a grayscale version of the vile daubings of Jack Vettriano

Charlie is at home, with Mabel and their bawling infant. We haven’t seen him much in a domestic setting. Even when he’s at home, it’s usually been a boarding house or a hotel. So this is an interesting extension of the character.

Charlie is not particularly at home at home: he immediately kicks over a pot of boiling water, scalding his shoeless feet (we can see that he does not really need those big tramp shoes), then scorches himself on the stove. A series of rather ouchy, burny-burny gags. Each time he tortures himself he turns to Mabel reproachfully, as if it’s her fault. When she leaves, he reproaches the baby.

A cigarette hangs from his mouth. Charlie isn’t a heavy smoker on screen, but the dangling fag seems to suit him better than the clay pipe he sported last time.

That baby is not having a great time. Chaplin has met someone he can’t entertain. The kid seems to like Mabel better: her return actually stops the red-faced tyke from wailing. Also, weirdly, when Charlie starts improperly carrying the little beast around by the scruff of its Edwardian romper suit, it quietens right down. Seems to find the experience interesting. It would feel like flying, I suppose, only with an uncomfortable pressure in the crotch area.

Rather alarming gag where baby is playing with a real handgun while Charlie reads the paper. I’m reminded of the baby, fork and power socket gag in Mauritzio Nichetti’s ICICLE THIEVES: it depends on the audience’s understanding of the filmmaker’s goodwill: they’re not going to have anything actually terrible happen. The fact that Charlie is also reclining in the baby’s crib barely registers in the midst of this outrage.

A subplot is generated: Helen Carruthers is playing Clarice (a name with now-inescapable Lecterish associations), and she asks Ambrose (Mack Swain) to mail a letter which is addressed to her lover. Ambrose is married to Phyllis Allen, Keystone’s resident Marie Dressler type. Now read on…

Louis Reeves Harrison of the Montgomery Journal wrote this positive review about HIS TRYSTING PLACE: “The comic spirit is entirely too deep and subtle for me to define. It defies analysis. The human aspect is certainly dominant. It is funniest when it is rich in defects of character. The incongruity of Chaplin’s portrayals, his extreme seriousness, his sober attention to trivialities, his constant errands and as constant resentment of what happens to him, all this has to be seen to be enjoyed.” He then describes the burning stuff as if it were the highest of comedy, which in screen terms I guess it just about was at that time. Chaplin is interested in comic behaviour beyond the narrow Keystone limits of punching and kicking, and that’s all new in 1914.

Mack Swain exits his apartment building, sucking on the head of his cane in a perfect anticipation of THE MALTESE FALCON’s Joel Cairo.

Charlie also heads out, after giving a quick brush to his coat, boots, and fingernails (with the same brush, obvs). Mabel is distraught at his desertion, which is inexplicable really. Baby really brightens up for the first time, and is all excited about somebody standing just off-camera. The actual parent/orphanage superintendent? Before Charlie’s gone, however, there is some actual affectionate byplay between man and wife, and we learn that the baby’s name is Peter. I should go back in and use his name when referring to him, shouldn’t I?*

The family scene is so cute, Chaplin cuts in for a closer look. Then he leaves, blowing his nose on the doormat. This gag, like the brush one, satisfies two requirements at once: it displays Charlie’s grottiness; and it showcases his ability to repurpose or transform the common day-to-day objects of life.

Comedy racism! A black teenager loitering by the store is introduced with the title card A DARK OMEN. One would like to think that Chaplin wasn’t responsible for this cheap shot. I know, let’s blame Syd. He did rework the titles on a lot of his half-brother’s Keystone flicks, generally to add cheap(er) jokes exactly like this one. (The card is absent in the current YouTube copy, thankfully.)

Then, while Charlie’s in the store, since the jump cut hasn’t been invented yet, we cut to a close view of Mabel playing with her little Peter. It’s nice to see her being maternal, although this manifests itself in a very Keystone way: making baby kick himself in the face. Which, to be fair, he seems to really enjoy.

The black kid’s narrative purpose, now we cut back to him, seems to be to make fun of Charlie for buying a kid’s toy. And since I sense the toy is going to be significant later, really the black kid is there to make the toy-buying vaguely entertaining.

Now the farce aspect of the film starts to build, as Charlie and Mack Swain are going to meet at a lunch bar. The place is populated by exaggerated comic types: Filthy Overalls Man and Long Grey Beard Man.

Note something exciting: as Charlie pauses outside, we can see a herd of cows pass by, reflected in the window pane. L.A. was really still a frontier town, it seems.

More repurposing of the everyday: Charlie wipes his hands on the old guy’s beard. This is also another kind of transmutation, making Beard Man into an object. Suddenly I realise that Charlie’s jacket is in better nick than usual. As befits a husband and father, his whole look is less tramp-like. But this is definitely the same character, fairly well-established now.

Charlie in medium shot reacts to Mack’s soup-straining. Always interesting to see the people a little closer in their face-paint, even though the visual comedy usually require head-to-toe framing, which Chaplin provides. He’s starting to learn when closer framing can add something.

When the meal breaks into a brawl, it’s definitely more comic in wide shot. A pie is flung by Chaplin — and misses! And an intertitle helps us understand that Mack has fled with the wrong overcoat. Charlie flings a second pie which Kuleshovs from the film set into the street location across town and strikes some smartly-dressed rando, splurch in the kisser.

Charlie makes a magnificent exit in triumph, twirling his cane, accidentally smacking the counter with it, and spinning round at the noise in aggression/panic at the “noise”, not realising that he is himself the source. It’s by now fully apparent that Chaplin can take something ordinary, an exit, simple A-B stuff, and imbue it with comedy value and character, which his co-stars hadn’t really thought to do (maybe Arbuckle, a bit? and in France, Linder). They needed all that frenetic pace because without it, the knockabout would have been interspersed with dead air as the comics trotted from set-up to set-up, powerless without a a brick to throw or a hammer to swing. We’re also told that Chaplin had particularly concentrated on his exits and entrances because he knew the Keystone cutters wouldn’t be able to delete those.

The inevitable Echo Lake Park, with its distinctive bridge. Mack meets his Mrs. The swapped coat is going to come into play soon. It’s a ticking time bomb made of cloth.

Charlie returns home and Mabel, in her joy, burns him with the iron. He’s going to look like Freddy Krueger by the end of this one.

Now, looking for baby Peter’s present, Mabel finds the incriminating letter from Clarice. Is it made more incriminating by the fact that Clarice never sealed the envelope? I suppose it is. It doesn’t make any sense, but never mind, it fulfills the basic requirements of a domestic misunderstanding (the bar is set low on such things, as a glance at real life will tell you).

Hmm, Clarice has written “I could not live without seeing you again,” which is a bit scary since her letter now looks like never being delivered. Is the movie going to end with her lifeless body being fished from Echo Lake? Or will little Peter lend her his handgun? I do hope not.

Mabel reads the note and blows her top. The best bit is breaking the ironing board over Charlie’s head. (Missing from current YouTube version!) Probably the least painful thing that’s happened to him at home, if you think about it. I wondered for a moment if she might hit him with Peter, but she showed admirable restraint.

The same cannot be said for Mack Swain’s performance as he canoodles with Carruthers, sucking his cane in false-moustache ecstasy.

A kop appears, as is customary. He diagnoses Charlie as nuts after observing his distrait manner. Charlie then accidentally sits on Carruthers, which leads to striking up a conversation with her —

As if in a nineteen-tens version of TROP BELLE POUR TOIS, Mabel now comes to suspect that her husband is cheating on her with the matronly Carruthers. How could he? Or why would he? The ways of love are strange. But nothing a smack in the face with a loose jacket can’t fix.

Really great marital slapstick as Mabel beats up Charlie in and around a bin. These two play so well together now. (“You’re not my type. And I’m not yours,” Mabel told Charlie when he tried to flirt.)

Meanwhile, Helen Carruthers finds the baby’s bottle intended for small Peter, inside what she believes to be her husband’s coat. The implications are clear.

Swain finds Mabel raging, and attempts to console her, a good, or at any rate good-sized Samaritan. This earns him a kick up the arse from Charlie, something made inevitable by composition, framing, posture, anatomy, the whole enchilada. Rather than going for surprise, Chaplin builds up to the arse-kick with ritualistic care.

Mabel kicking Charlie so he head-butts Mack in the midriff and propels him into the bin is also rather beautiful. Simple knockabout has come a long way in a year. Keyestone always had these guys with amazing physical skills (circus artistes, many of them), but you didn’t see the gags cleanly played in suitable dramatic circumstances until around now.

Mabel starts yanking Charlie about by the collar and he does the accelerated motion head-waggle he’s make good use of later when Eric Campbell got him by the throat. This is, I think, its first appearance.

The kop turns up, holding the (abandoned) baby, and there’s a beautiful group scene of everyone trying to act normal for his benefit. Amazing.

Everything gets resolved. Then Charlie hands over the stray love letter and lands Mack right in it. We end, however, with a charming family scene, Mabel and Charlie and little Peter who, reunited with his father, starts bawling again.

*Did I remember to do that?

The Sunday Intertitle: Mr. Wow-Wow goes to the Races, or, Drive, he didn’t say

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2020 by dcairns

GENTLEMEN OF NERVE is another bloody Keystone racing film, crammed with busy comics — Mabel is off to the races with Mr. Walrus (Chester Conklin) and Mr. Ambrose (Mack Swain) competing for her favours, Charlie is there too. Maybe this was due to a desire to play it safe after the expensive and extensive DOUGH AND DYNAMITE (which made a huge profit in the end so they needn’t have worried).

The idea of intercutting documentary footage of auto races with capering clowns is a weird one, but one that Keystone — and Chaplin — returned to remorselessly. The documentary dilutes the slapstick and the slapstick… well, it doesn’t harm the documentary because that’s just utterly boring. This one has a crazily long shot of a tyre being changed to set the scene. It’s against the clock, but Chaplin is not the kind of filmmaker who can create exciting suspense from a technical exercise involving non-characters. He just tripods it, panning about a foot one way, then back again. It’s not exactly THE WAGES OF FEAR, is it?

Big Phyllis Allen makes a pass at Chester and he’s tempted to ditch Mabel, which seems… strange. But maybe he likes them large. Mabel was miniscule.

Chaplin enters, introduced by title card as “Mr. Wow-Wow, a disturbing influence.” He’s smartly dressed in a long, loose jacket, but with bowler, moustache and cane, with which he immediately thwacks Swain’s capacious buttocks. So, he’s not quite the Tramp, just Chaplin using some Tramp signifiers. He tries to get into the racetrack without paying by walking backwards, hoping they’ll think he’s leaving. I like that bit.

Swain overacts pretty wildly in the early shorts, and seems weak compared even to Conklin. He doesn’t intimidate Charlie, so the David & Goliath thing that Eric Campbell would help cement isn’t functioning. Later, in THE GOLD RUSH, Swain is even bigger, acts better, and even as a friend to the Little Fellow, is a convincing THREAT. Big people are a menace even when they’re nice, is a lynchpin of the Chaplin worldview.

Forming an alliance, Wow-wow and Ambrose try to sneak into the stadium but Ambrose gets stuck halfway through an opening, leading to lengthy abuse. A woman with a soda seltzer appears, somewhat mysteriously, and Chaplin gets to spritz his first spritzee, Mack. He hasn’t thrown a single pie at Keystone, despite all the pastry abuse in his previous short, but at least he gets to spray.

Wow-Wow now lights a match on Mr. Walrus’s pant seat, amusing the fickle Mabel (well, she has just seen him flirting outrageously with Phyllis Allen). Walrus gets all up in Wow-Wow’s face, and thus gets his nose bitten. Chaplin hangs on there like a conger eel. Picks his teeth afterwards as if he’s actually bitten off actual substance from Conklin’s conk. Shades of brother Sydney’s cannibalistic atrocity.

Separated from the crowd by a fence, Wow-Wow taunts and thwacks the rowdy faces, a brutish bit of business in which nobody seems remotely appealing, the thugs behind the wire mesh or the arrogant and vicious cane-wielder. The later Charlie character is much closer to that seen in his previous couple of pictures, an inadvertently disturbing influence rather than just a nasty piece of work. Minutes later he’s singeing Mr. Ambrose’s nose with his cigarette and kicking him in the gut… it’s not charming and it’s not funny.

Chaplin well knew this stuff bore little relationship to comedy, but he felt duty-bound to give Sennett what he demanded, and this sadism may constitute a “running for cover” after the overrun of DOUGH & DYNAMITE. As Chaplin would write in a 1922 article, “The comic spirit meant to me at the beginning of my screen career, as it still means to many people, a series of “gags” and funny business of a not very high order–anything to capture a moment’s laughter or to stir the most elementary sense of the ridiculous. Now, this broad and slapstick kind of comedy, compounded mostly of boisterous spirits and physical violence, has about the same relation to humor as tickling a man on the soles of his feet with a wisp of straw.” He’s not wrong.

Wow-Wow meets another pretty girl and steals a sook of her Coke. Caught at it, he looks innocently skywards, like Harpo. Walrus is flirting with Phyllis again so Mabel walks out on him and collides with Wow-Wow (those bloody names! “Mabel” is bad enough). She sits on his hat and destroys it. The surrounding actors are laughing at all this business, which doesn’t make it any funnier.

Some byplay with a jalopy driver whose “racecar” sports an enormous front propellor. A very fine showcasing of the Chaplin cornering hop.

Conklin/Walrus whispers some kind of inappropriate suggestion to Phyllis and gets duffed up. This movie has more plot threads than Bleak House, but fortunately they all consist solely of idiots hitting each other so it’s easy to follow.

Conklin returns to Mabel and tries to claim her by force. Now we’re actually on Wow-Wow’s side as he delivers a punitive drubbing. Toothbrush versus Walrus in the World Series of Moustaches. Walrus collides with Ambrose and both get hauled off by a Kop. Wow-Wow and Mabel laugh delitedly, and it’s a rare instance of Chaplin expressing joy with his natural toothy grin and laugh. We end on lots of affectionate stuff with Mabel, one of the few co-stars Chaplin never got to first base with.

“I’m not your type, neither are you mine,” he says she told him.

Barbara Steele just told me she had lunch with Chaplin and Oona when she was 19. He was all excited because somebody had just let him have the use of a holiday home in St Tropez. I guess this would be around the time of A KING IN NEW YORK and he had some money trouble after leaving America I believe, so a free house would be great news.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to finish the Keystones this year, so that his December output would synch up with mine and I can start next year afresh with the Essanay films, but he’s making them faster than I can write about them (well, I started in the middle of my year and he started at the beginning of his). So I think I’ll run in to January — we have a whole feature film to contend with. But I’ll still get an Essanay done that month, and then it’s more or less one Chaplin per month for 2021. Join me!

Young man Charlie laughing goes all double-chinned, and suddenly we get a glimpse of old man Charlie to come…

The Sunday Intertitle: Full and Fuller

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2020 by dcairns

THE ROUNDERS is mainly known to me for its closing shot, which introduced Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle to me in Brownlow & Gill’s life-changing series Hollywood. (Me to Brownlow: Your series changed my life and made me become a filmmaker!” Brownlow to me: “You must be broke!” Me to Brownlow: “I am!”) Chaplin and Arbuckle, dead drunk, sinking underwater… one on his way to immortality, the other to obscurity.

A title identifies Charlie as “Mr. Full” — he’s doing the drunk act again, and also wearing a silk hat and an Inverness coat (swanky coat with built-in mini-cape) — so he’s not the Tramp. But he’s got the moustache, just like in ONE A.M. And the cane, and the disreputable boots (out of keeping with the rest). So I guess the walk has become central to Chaplin’s screen persona, even if the rest isn’t secured yet. It seems that it has not been definitely determined yet that the public wants to see Chaplin as a Tramp at all times. He would find that out later, and his experiments with departing from the familiar character would become very, very occasional.

I don’t know if Chaplin really felt the Tramp character limited him unduly. Looking at all he did with it, he would clearly have been WRONG to think so. I think perhaps he just felt that he SHOULD play other characters, because clearly he COULD, and he wanted the world to know it. I mean, he wanted to play Jesus Christ, for Chrissake.

Even though shitfaced, Mr. Full take it upon himself to twist his own ear and emit cigarette smoke from his mouth, as if his head were a contraption. Nobody is around. This little performance is executed for an audience of one: Mr. Full. He doesn’t seem to be aware of us watching, though with Chaplin that’s always a possibility. Chaplin never quite gave up on these little tricks performed for his own amusement, which are almost breaking character, but he did cut down on them as his character got more involved in the world of his stories. It’s possible, I suppose, that Mr. Full isn’t doing this as a conscious trick, but is so drunk his body has become alienated from him, and he feels he NEEDS to operate it like a machine to get results.

Now Mr. Full is staggering around a hotel lobby, just as the proto-Tramp did in his first appearance. Compelled to churn out films at an appalling rate, Chaplin seems to have grabbed at anything he’d already done for other directors, reworking it to suit himself.

Mr. Full seems to be a far less aggressive, more genteel inebriate than the predatory creep of MABEL’S STRANGE PREDICAMENT: bumping into a large man’s backside, he raises his hat politely to the backside, apologising to it, rather than its owner.

I’ve now picked up a second hand Chaplin, the biography by David Robinson, a book even better than its high reputation suggests. Not just a bio but an unbeatable critical study (superior even to Walter Kerr, so far as Chaplin goes). Here he is on the Chaplin hat-tip:

“The traditional historical explanation of Chaplin’s innovations at Keystone is that, despite the doubt and resistance of Sennett and the Keystone comedians, he succeeded in slowing down the helter-skelter pace, and introduced new subtlety to the gag comedy. This is true so far as it goes, but the difference lay deeper. Keystone comedy was created from without; anecdote and situations were explained in pantomime and gesture. Chaplin’s comedy was created from within. What the audience saw in him was the expression of thoughts and feelings, and the comedy lay in the relation of those thoughts and feelings to the situations around him. The crucial point of Chaplin’s comedy was not the comic occurrence itself, but Chaplin’s relationship and attitude to it. In the Keystone style, it was enough to bump into a tree to be funny. When Chaplin bumped into a tree, however, it was not the collision that was funny, but the fact that he raised his hat to the tree in a reflex gesture of apology. The essential difference between the Keystone style and Chaplin’s comedy is that one depends on exposition, the other on expression. While the exposition style may depend on such codes as the Keystone mime, the expressive style is instantly and universally understood; that was the essential factor in Chaplin’s almost instant and world-wide fame.”

Also in the lobby: future Keaton collaborator Eddie Cline. And in the next scene, the eternal bellhop Al St. John. St John, I must say, always catches the attention and holds it. He’s an unusual presence. His solo shorts may or may not be great but he justifies star billing by being TOO ATTRACTIVE TO THE EYE to really work in a bit part. How long before Chaplin gives him the elbow?

Phyllis Allen plays the scold, Mrs. Full, first seen alone, “nursing her wrath to keep it warm.” Mr. F. tries a winning smile on her. Twice. She’s having none of it. It’s a very Tam O’Shanter marital set-up with very clearly defined roles.

Meet Mr. Fuller: Arbuckle, of course. Equally paralytic in his drunkenness, he has an innocence about him that Chaplin hasn’t quite discovered. Children loved both Chaplin and Arbuckle because they’re both naughty boys. Arbuckle is basically a giant, polluted baby. He staggers into the lobby, mirroring Chaplin’s bit, but doing his own thing with the set-up.

Mrs. Fuller is Araminta Estelle “Minta” Durfee, with her huge wad of hair that seems to have fallen on her scalp like dough, who, as I perhaps haven’t previously remarked, was the real-life Mrs. Arbuckle. She’s bemoaning her husband’s alcoholism, which may have been Minta’s real-life situation.

Minta is mainly responsible for our knowing that Chaplin smelled bad (like Robert Pattinson and Michael Fassbender, allegedly). He had apparently embraced or invented a theory that one should wear a single set of clothes, unwashed, until they disintegrated out. This doesn’t seem to have any particular advantage over the more conventional, society-approved procedure of washing and changing. I guess you save on laundry bills and your clothes fall apart before the moths get ’em.

I don’t know when Chaplin stopped reeking, but his stinginess, embossed upon his psyche by childhood poverty, lasted. Nestor Almendros, filming an interview with C.C. at the end of his life, was appalled to hear him answer a question about whether he was happy with “God, yes. I’ve got money!” But if you grow up in extreme poverty, isn’t that understandable?

Mrs. Full uses the Chaplin cane to hook her husband by the neck: a rare occurrence. Charlie never normally allows anyone else to use his cane. It’s like a fifth limb.

Good bits: Arbuckle trying to pick up his topper, but kicking it away each time; Chaplin falling onto his bed and hooking his feet around the headboard so as to lock himself into a vulgar, arse-up, body-rictus. Minta unlocks him by thrashing his upturned posterior with the cane, which is now officially hers, it seems. A kind of marital emasculation.

Mr. Fuller is a bit rough to his missus, but Arbuckle’s performance makes clear that he doesn’t really know what he’s doing: any brutality is unconscious. As is he, practically, after Minta retaliates with roundhouse slaps to the spherical physog.

That’s all funny enough, but when Fuller starts strangling his wife it’s slightly less amusing. He’s strangling so loud, Mrs. Full can hear him clear across the hall. She sends Mr. Full to the rescue, a curiously futile idea. But it works! Full knocks down Fuller with the door upon entering, but then is set upon by Mrs. Fuller. How dare you prevent my husband strangling me? Then the formidable Mrs. Full counterattacks. How dare you assault my worthless drunk of a husband?

This is all good, well-observed stuff. If you allow that alcoholism and domestic abuse are suitable subjects for “farce comedy” — and on the one hand, this is a terrible, insensitive idea and on the other, they are IDEAL subjects, perhaps the ONLY subjects, for Keystone-type “farce comedy” — then what Chaplin and chums are doing is reasonably accurate knockabout satire.

Mr. Full now tries to extricate his wife from her battle with Mrs. Fuller, but gets knocked flying by a thrust of her pugilistic buttocks. So Mrs. Full is fighting to defend her husband, and thumping her husband at the same time. Because that’s her inalienable right, and no other woman is going to horn in on it. It all makes perfect sense, you see.

Rendered irrelevant to the hostilities they sparked off, Full & Fuller now recognize one another as brothers in inebriation, and sneak off, with Fuller using his cane to filch his wife’s handbag.

Hand-shaking now becomes a terrific bit of business — every time the boys look away, they forget the other is there, and so when they turn back it’s a surprised and they have to shake hands again.

With the wives arguing in the Fuller rooms, the husbands ransack the Full household: the second cane and hat are fetched and the second purse is pilfered. Now as synchronized as Siamese twins, the two freshly-moneyed gentlemen stagger off in search of booze. It’s interesting to see that film grammar of the day requires us to see them pass through the lobby on their way out, even though nothing happens during this part of the voyage. Al St John is placed in the lobby, just for continuity’s sake — he’s got to be in the hotel somewhere, so why not here? — but gets nothing to do.

The wives discover the theft(s) and console one another. Sisterhood! They set off to find, and possibly assassinate, their errant spouses.

Arbuckle hauls Chaplin to “Smith’s Cafe,” which, like all the best establishments, had a doorman in blackface. This is Billy Gilbert, but not the later Laurel & Hardy co-star, Joe Pettibone in HIS GIRL FRIDAY, Herring in THE GREAT DICTATOR. I presume Chaplin knew he was hiring a different Billy Gilbert on that occasion: clearly, Herring/Goering needed to be fat.

Arbuckle and Chaplin abuse the blackface guy just for the hell of it, which makes an already uncomfortable situation even more uncomfortable. “They have suffered too much ever to be funny to me,” Chaplin later said of African Americans. But blackface comedians are fair game.

(Sidebar: King Vidor, talking of the difficulty he had getting HALLULUJAH! made in 1929, said that even the success of Al Jolson didn’t help, a clear and clueless case of category error if I ever heard one. God bless him.)

During this whole segment of the film, Chaplin’s Mr. Full has gone from falling-down drunk to the next level, fallen-down drunk, and is reduced to the status of carry-on prop for Arbuckle. Hauled lifeless into the presence of table service, however, he revives enough to light a match on a bald man’s scalp. We then get a little tour-de-force on the myriad offensive uses a stranger’s head may be turned to.

These two barbarians are pretty great together, if you can get behind the Marxian project of destroying all rational thought and civilized behaviour. Arbuckle uses the tablecloth as a bedsheet, putting his feet up in a winestand and attempting slumber. Chaplin begins to undress. Assailed by waiters, they turn pugnacious. But then the wives arrive like the Seventh Cavalry (not to rescue but to massacre). Their attempts to clobber their befuddled consorts are frustrated somewhat by the men’s inability to stand in place, or even stand at all. One feels that Dante missed a trick by not placing in his inferno a wife attempting eternally to batter her better half who keeps falling on his keister before she can lamp him one.

The husbands flee into the inevitable park. The situation is too urgent even to allow them to pause and abuse the doorman. Strictly speaking, introducing a whole new location, previous unprepared-for, is poor structure, but the appearance of Westlake Park in a Keystone short is so inevitable that one feels no dereliction by the scenarist in resorting to it.

Fleeing their fate, Chaplin and Arbuckle run smack into it — a watery appointment in Samarra — the short film collides with the famous excerpt. Launching themselves in a leaky vessel, and apparently drowning two innocent bystanders, our shitfaced heroes fall asleep as the waters of the fatal pond gradually creep up to absorb them. Arbuckle’s abdomen, a waistcoated Atlantis, remains for a moment after the rest of him has gone, and then all that remains is a top hat.

It’s not markedly more “sophisticated” than previous Chaplin endings (everyone is knocked unconscious or into Echo Park Lake), but it feels much more like a proper ending. Some care (and discomfort) has been put into it. An ending, the Coen Brothers have claimed, is just a bunch of things that, when put together, feel like an ending. But surely a certain compositional shape or attitude is also required. THE ROUNDERS, for maybe the first time in Chaplin’s directorial career, achieves this. And by cutting out extraneous business and characters (even the meaningless drowning couple are there to provide a boat), and focussing on what we might even term an over-arching THEME — the Dysfunctional Relationships of Hotel-Dwelling Drunks — it actually feels like a little story. Without being as funny as THE FACE ON THE BARROOM FLOOR, it builds on that film’s sense of shape and purpose.