Archive for The Tramp

It’s a Gas!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2021 by dcairns

Chaplin is BOUNCING at Mutual. If THE RINK is just riotous misbehaviour with a fig leaf of farce plot, EASY STREET, with its mostly-parody temperance theme, a “reformation melodrama” as David Robinson calls it, is tightly plotted and the rambunctiousness is sort of ABOUT something.

It’s a very simple plot — simplicity is working well for CC at Mutual, by concentrating on one strong narrative line, or intercutting a couple, he’s been drawing back from the slightly random cutaways he’s apt to use: Character X is asleep. Here he is asleep. Here he is STILL asleep because we needed to trim a bit out and didn’t want to cause a jump cut. Here he is waking up, which is important, but we’re seeing it now because we had another gap to fill, and you won’t actually see him do anything for another five minutes.

This kind of thing was no doubt common in other comedies, but Chaplin does it A LOT. Whichever nouvelle vague fellow (Rivette?) said that Chaplin was the greatest editor only has a case to make once you get further along in the career.

Fade-up on Charlie asleep in an exterior corner of the New Hope Mission. He evidently hasn’t read the sign or got the message. He’s just been billed as “The Derelict” and then an intertitle calls him The Lost Sheep and the first image confirms those words in strong terms. I’d argue that basically only the first and last shot of this brilliant short are serious, the rest is playful and parodic even when it seems melodramatic or sentimental.

A thing I hadn’t realised before is that Chaplin preceded his attempt as sentiment by making fun of sentiment, and this is how he slowly dripped it into his work.

Charlie awakens and hears Edna Purviance singing. She must be singing beautifully because her hair is all backlit. She’s so good, Charlie goes into the church to investigate. Some mild comedy is produced from his uncertainty how to behave. Chaplin has produced some quite caustic commentary about churchmen (the opening of POLICE) and some flat-out contemptuous slapstick (the rotten egg in the hymnbook in THE TRAMP) so this seems at first a big change of viewpoint. But there’s still something lightly satirical — Charlie is only interested in religion because he’s interested in Edna. His feelings for her are quite tender and chivalric, rather than the impish and impudent flirtations of yore, but they’re romantic not religious.

Charlie’s change of character is signalled by him returning the collection box he’d planned to steal, which takes the curse off any preachy quality. Rather than being touched by his reformation, we gasp at the perfidy he’s moving on from.

There’s a comedy drunk in the mission played by John Rand, which means we get to see him without a big black moustache. Later he’ll play a kop and the cookie-duster is back on for that.

Also: the dramatic close-up, expertly used. Closeups in early Chaplin were usually just shots of the girl with a puppy or something. A bit of cuteness for variety, one of those slightly random cutaways. This is strong filmmaking.

There’s some tasteful humour with a baby — Charlie only THINKS its micturated on his leg. The baby, no trouper, stole Charlie’s moustache, perhaps intent on becoming a Pubert Addams avant la letter, an outtake that seems not to have survived.

We cut from this backlit, religiose idyll to the startling contrast of Easy Street itself. The T-junction becomes a Chaplin meme — it looks like a London street, as everyone has by now pointed out (I read it in Robinson first). But the shape is a useful one because it gives the impression you’re seeing a lot more than you are. A surrounding city is implied but unshown and unbuilt. In fact, we’ll see later that if you run off one end of Easy Street you find yourself in an LA location shot, and if you keep running you wind up back on another end of Easy Street.

The scene is of indescribable chaos. A bunch of thugs is beating up a bunch of kops. Eric Campbell, “the bully,” is leading the thugs. Beardless and shaven-headed, he’s discarded his usual air of an overinflated melodramatic villain of the moustache-twirling variety, and is now a figure of terrifying strength and violence, and at the same time a comic exaggeration of that idea.

Now Charlie has to choose to become a kop, something almost unthinkable. In THE CURE, Chaplin would delete a scene where he acts as unofficial traffic cop to a lot of drunken (dis)orderlies and their bathchair-bound clients, and the assumption by Brownlow & Gill, who use the clip in the priceless doc series Unknown Chaplin, and David Robinson agrees, is that Charlie can’t be seen to impose order out of chaos when his whole personality is based on the reverse of that. Well, in this film, he does little BUT impose order out of chaos, but at least he does it by hitting people on the head.

The police station interior seems to have been shot during or after a shower of rain, and indeed bad weather did delay filming on this one. Mostly Chaplin just waited for the weather, but he seems to have decided to compromise on this one shot. Since his studio was open-air, he couldn’t very well have shot the mission interiors with rain pouring down.

The reason the kops are desperate for men is that Big Eric keeps mangling them, sometimes so badly that they are transformed into floppy dummies. We love a good floppy dummy here in the Shadowplayhouse, and this film has some terrific substitutions, performed without the aid of the jump cut. Charlie doesn’t know any of this, however.

The first honest citizen to get a look at Charlie in Kop kostume is convulsed in hysterics. Charlie knocks the guy unconscious with his baton and has him hauled off the the cells. Any worry we may have had that our agent of misrule is going to become boringly civilised is dispelled. He’s going to carry on being a little brute but enjoy his ability have people locked up instead of just thumping them.

As promising as this line may be — or not — the movie has other plans. Charlie is given Easy Street as his beat, which means he’ll rapidly be running into Big Eric. The film has set Eric up as a genuine figure of terror, which is a whole new thing for Chaplin to play with. The hobos in THE TRAMP and the “gypsies” in THE VAGABOND were early attempts at setting the Little Fellow up against vicious characters who don’t know they’re in a slapstick comedy and don’t expect to play by those rules, but this is more intense, because Chaplin has taken the trouble to show Eric being savagely effective against someone other than Edna.

Now we have SUSPENSE — “He’s behind you!” — dramatic irony/poignancy — Eric has been set up as a menace and nothing about Charlie suggests he’ll be able to cope with his hulking opponent. It’s great. Fear is such a useful component in comedy. My mother never liked Chaplin particularly but anything that injects terror into comedy gets her SCREAMING at the TV.

Eric has just played his own game of peekaboo, causing the entire degenerate population of Easy Street to vanish whenever he whirls to face them, so he has been set up as not only a man who can tear the pants off policemen, but one who can terrorise a score of people with a mere look.

This is all impressive because it’s both funny and dramatic, and the dramatic parts — the fear and poignancy — enhance the comic, and vice versa probably.

Chaplin’s slow approach from extreme long shot stresses his tininess compared with Eric. Standing parallel, they’re eye to eye only because of the tall sidewalk, and when Eric steps up onto it, dwarfing Charlie, it’s a little like the big guy emerging, inch by inch, from the sidewalk loading bay in CITY LIGHTS, until Charlie’s bravado vanishes in his shadow.

Also, tracking shots! There are five simple motivations for moving the camera — following characters; showing a moving character’s POV; the psychological reaction intensifier; telling a story by showing things in succession; exploring space. Surprisingly, Charlie’s tentative first moves were of the last-named kind, and they sometimes seemed like distractions. But his pull-back from Edna’s portrait in THE VAGABOND worked as a combination of spacial exploration and storytelling. His push onto the dance floor in THE COUNT is a stab at following characters, but the relationship of dancers and camera was slightly amorphous. Here, tracking along with Charlie and Eric keeps them roughly the same size but also adds importance to them, increases the involvement of our eyes, intensifies our emotional response.

It’s all the more suspenseful because Charlie is simply trying to pretend Eric doesn’t exist — just about the weakest thing he could do.

Charlie wanders around Chaplin’s set, followed by Rollie Totheroh’s camera in a deadpan pan.

As Charlie loiters by the police telephone, trying to get his hand on the mouthpiece without the rest of his body showing any interest — so that Eric will disregard his hand, seeing it as an independent creature for which Charlie is not responsible (this is a good technique if you’re operating a puppet in plain view and you want people to believe it’s alive) — Charlie produces his sickly smile, a Rik Mayall effect not seen on the Chaplin countenance since the cinema scene in TILLIE’S PUNCTURED ROMANCE. And that wasn’t even the Tramp character.

Grabbing the phone but getting caught at it, he transforms it by mime into a snake charmer’s flute, to which surely Bully Eric could have no objection? I mean, everybody likes music, right?

This has an unexpected but gratifying effect — Eric, who is not the sharpest lug hammer in the box, grabs the phone and looks into it, to see if it really does have musical properties. I think. The motivations of large and terrible men may be slightly beyond me. Charlie seizes the moment and clonks his new friend on the bristly occiput with his truncheon. No effect.

This may be the first time anyone thought of doing a basic slapstick wallop and having it not work, and using that for comic terror. A technique copied by everyone, or certainly by Roger Moore and Richard Kiel. I think maybe Sean Connery and Harold Sakata also.

Everything Chaplin’s doing is suspense-based, without Hitchcockian editing but with performance that adjusts the audiences focus from character to character in less than the blink of an eye. And it’s all comedy too.

Eric is apparently taking such pleasure in his work — menacing is fun! — he wants to demonstrate what he’s going to do to his victim on a lamp post — Easy Street is a portal to Victorian London so I’m not saying “streetlight.” It’s like when Withnail attributes imaginary threats to wrestler Jeff Wode:

‘In fact, he’d probably tell you what he was going to do before he did it. [Starts acting out the scene in his head] “I’m going to pull your head off”. “Oh no, please, don’t pull my head off”. “I’m going to pull your head off because I don’t like your head.”‘

Eric can’t tell Charlie because it’s a silent film, so he SHOWS, and Charlie seizes the chance to humanely gas his opponent.

Fiona, like many audiences before, was fairly horrified by this part of the struggle — Campbell, an early progenitor of the mutant chief in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, makes a grisly spectacle of succumbing to asphyxiation. But it’s all done with scientific care and the community’s best interests.

Fiona was twice fooled into thinking Eric was dead. He’s like Michael Myers, only with a face.

Charlie is now a figure of fear like Eric had been, and he reprises the gag where the street’s populace creeps into view behind him then flees in terror when he turns.

When the other kops come scurrying round the corner to see if Eric is really defeated, I unaccountably get an Akira Kurosawa vibe. Certainly Kurosawa saw Chaplin films as a kid, and certainly he became a master of moving actors in groups in wide shots. It’s the way they scatter horizontally upon emerging here…

Charlie lights a ciggie and blows up the gaslight.

Next — the movie just pretends that didn’t happen — he helps a desperate woman who’s stolen some groceries. That is, he helps her steal MORE. He’s an unconventional policeman. Like Special Agent Chester Desmond, he’s got his own M.O.

Modus operandi!

This middle part of the film is somewhat aimless, but Charlie’s good deeds impress Edna favourably. We meet Loyal Underwood, a relatively new member of the stock company, playing a feeble little guy who’s somehow fathered a small army.

Eric regains consciousness at the kop shop, snaps his handcuffs, and initiates a donnybrook. Batons have no effect! He shoves one constable out of shot for an instant, and when he drags him back into view, the fellow has metamorphosed into a floppy dummy, and is used to belabour his fellows. All done with framing rather than the more usual jumpcut.

Meanwhile Charlie is feeding the children as if they were chickens. “I do that because I despise them,” Chaplin told someone or other. Strange, for a man who’d have so many kids himself.

Eric goes home and gets into a Punch and Judy fight with his wife — for a moment she seems like she might subdue him by sheer ferocity, but soon she’s in trouble. Charlie rushes on over to see what’s up, then rushes away when he sees what’s up. Eric follows.

There now occurs a chase sequence as M.C. Escher might have designed it. Charlie runs off the right arm of the T-junction, onto an LA street, turns right onto another L.A. street, then reappears on the left of Easy Street, a journey which looks like this —

It’s a good trick if you can do it. Perhaps a hole in spacetime is involved. Perhaps the same phenomenon that allowed a woman with a cell phone to turn up for the premiere of THE CIRCUS?

Having successfully folded space like a DUNE navigator, defeating Eric should be a doddle, but in fact Charlie struggles quite a bit. He’s chased through Eric’s flat, then winds up back there, then manages to drop the stove on his enemy’s head. I vividly recall my Dad explaining to ten-year-old me exactly how fatal that would be.

Chaplin could presumably have ended the story with Eric’s defeat but surprisingly he keeps going. Edna is abducted by a bearded Henry Bergson and, in a parody of Griffith’s to-the-rescue cross-cutting, he keeps cutting back to The Derelict sitting idly in Eric’s ruined home, relaxing after his busy day.

Edna is imprisoned with a sinister junky who, after shooting up, becomes possessed of rapacious desires. I don’t know what’s in that syringe but when Charlie’s dropped on it, he transforms into a furious Viking berserker. It’s a startling drugs moment, repeated in MODERN TIMES where an accidental noseful of marching powder transforms the Tramp into a fearless and energetic thumper of felons.

Pounding and kicking the junky and Henry is a mere nothing, taking a flying drop-kick at eight men and knocking them all out of frame is slightly more effort. Judo throws follow. Henry’s ample belly serves as a kind of trampoline to propel our hero back to (Easy) street level — you can tell Chaplin has someone waiting to catch his arms and pull him the rest of the way. The clinch with Edna is delayed slightly by a pratfall — Chaplin is anxious not to let excitement completely replace comedy.

The ending, with Easy Street transformed by the judicious use of extreme violence into an urban paradise, is obviously somewhat satiric. Eric, who did not die, is now a smartly dressed model citizen. An employment agency, strategically placed, lends some slight credibility to the reformation of the neighbourhood. A new mission is prominent too, and when Charlie and Edna walk towards it arm in arm, all thought of parody has flown.

Chaplin hasn’t stopped bouncing — his next film accentuates the reformation-parody so it can’t be taken seriously at all, and substitutes increasing anarchy for the enforcement of order. And the Tramp takes a breather…

Vagabondage and Discipline

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2021 by dcairns

David Robinson regards THE VAGABOND as a major step forward for Chaplin, and I guess he’s right. The title implies a development from THE TRAMP, and it looks forward to THE KID, A WOMAN OF PARIS, and others.

Robinson also says that Chaplin was virtually the last to realize how famous he’d become, but the opening shot of this one — the Tramp identified by his boots and walk alone — shows that he was at least somewhat aware of how iconic his costume and stance had become. Same with introducing himself from the rear in THE FLOORWALKER, but this is altogether more stylish.

The opening sequence is a bit of standalone knockabout, the kind of thing we see Chaplin doing more of in his feature films. Introduce the Little Fellow, get some big laughs, then start the story. Charlie is a busker — Chaplin played the violin for real, and would do so again in LIMELIGHT. At the orphanage, Chaplin had been beaten for being left-handed and as a result had become ambidextrous, but he played the violin left-handed and had the instrument strung accordingly, “with the bass-bar and sounding post reversed.”

When his friend Jascha Heifetz picked up Chaplin’s violin, he couldn’t play it. Chaplin demonstrated: ““You see! I am made inside out and upside down. When I turn my back on you on the screen you are looking at something as expressive as a face.”

Charlie plays outside a bar, but a noisy oompah band (played by all the firemen from THE FIREMAN) impress the customers. When he goes in to collect donations, he’s mistaken for a member of the band. Then the band send someone in and a fight breaks out. Oh, and here’s Leo White in his longest beard yet, playing a Jewish customer tempted by the ham. A bit of very mild Jewish humour to prepare us for the more dubious racial stereotyping later.

The set built for this sequence is very interesting — the long bar constructed as both interior and exterior, enabling a different kind of running battle. Chaplin’s loose approach to story — building it from rehearsal/improvisation — suggests he may have been hoping this sequence would lead organically into a larger story.

Instead, his next scene abruptly relocates Charlie to the countryside. Edna is “the gypsy drudge,” horribly mistreated by a crone — Leo White in drag! — and the gypsy chieftain, Eric Campbell in a straight villain role. The brutal whippings Edna is receiving suggest it’s miraculous she’s reached adulthood.

Charlie happens along and tries to cheer Edna up. His initial motivation seems to be profit, though why (a) he’d expect the ragged and miserable Edna to have money and (b) why he thinks he can impress the stereotyped Romany camp with his fiddling — coals to Newcastle, surely? — are moot points.

Chaplin, interestingly, was probably part Roma himself. Which doesn’t make his using the racist trope of “gypsies abducting babies” any better. He’s thoughlessly following a familiar plotline, as previously exploited in D.W. Griffith’s first short, THE ADVENTURE OF DOLLIE. Everybody seems to have believed travelling people routinely stole kids, or at least they found it a perfectly acceptable premise for a story, whether they believed it or not. Sigh.

Oh, and Chaplin has already introduced this theme with a short scene showing the very rich mother (palatial home — two women knitting). The cut from mother looking at little girl photo to Edna makes it all but explicit what the connection is, so the plot twist doesn’t come as a deus ex machina later.

THE VAGABOND has smoothed over the awkward changes in tone that Walter Kerr found so jarring and unresolved in THE TRAMP, though it’s still a little disconcerting to have Charlie walk into this scene of horror. Only when he starts to fight back against Eric and the rest of his gang do these tensions flow together into a coherent line of action. It’s very exciting when they do. But it only works if you can root for Charlie and forget about the racist assumptions underlying the scene.

Charlie up a tree stealth-bonking the Romany scoundrels on the nut, one after the other, until they’re all neatly laid out unconscious, is thrilling and funny. When he nudges one prone foe off the bridge, presumably into a watery grave, it seems to be an act performed in a spirit of neatness. This is what we mean by “pre-Holocaust comedy.”

Charlie escapes with Edna in a stolen caravan, an excitingly staged mini-chase. I think the comic-dramatic exciting chase, where you root for the hero against the villain(s), is fairly new to Chaplin. There’s some of it in THE TRAMP.

There follows a chaste idyll, the first of many in Chaplin’s films. In fact, Charlie washing Edna’s face is directly echoed in his fatherly ministrations to Jackie Coogan in THE KID — and it’s more appropriate there, too. This idyll is arguably TOO idyllic — it’s interspersed with Edna meeting The Painter (Lloyd Bacon, who played her father in the previous short), an idyll within an idyll. The painter isn’t very interesting, and it’s hard to see why Edna is so impressed with him. I mean, sure he’s cultured, but how good is he at killing gypsies?

The painting complete, it is shown — rather obviously a glazed photograph — in an art gallery, in Chaplin’s first really successful camera move, an elegant pull-back. And the rich lady, setting aside her knitting for a day out, spots the painting, and she and the painter ride out to the country so Edna can be retrieved.

The painter’s feelings aren’t much gone into. Having painted Edna as “the Living Shamrock” (owing to the oddly configured birthmark her mother will recognise) he would seem to have lost all interest in her, but now he’s excited again. Probably because Edna turns out to be posh, with a rich mother who lives in a mansion, wears elegant robes, and eats regularly. I’d suspect the painter of mercenary motives if he wasn’t so obviously a plot function with an easel.

Charlie is left alone. He tries kicking his heels to restore his spirits — it worked in THE TRAMP — but he is inconsolable. But, as she drives away in her mother’s limo, Edna has second thoughts. It’s a very nice shot, done in a real automobile, because we can see both Edna’s dawning romantic yearning, and the road stretching away through the rear window, showing the distance between the lovers inexorably lengthening.

But the car turns round, picks up Charlie, and the film ends with the open road but nobody on it. One might worry a little about the abandoned horse. One is more likely to wonder about the characters’ future, about how Charlie and the respectable folks are going to get along. It’s a question begged, but ultimately refused, by the endings of THE KID and CITY LIGHTS, which stop just before the questions become pressing.

Chaplin apparently considered other endings, including a gag finish where he’d try to drown himself, get hauled into a row boat by a passing woman, then throw himself back in when he sees she’s the unglamorous Phyllis Allen. I think we can all be grateful he decided against that one. But it leaves THE VAGABOND as an odd story that starts totally comical and ends totally serious, with little in the way of comedy in its last ten minutes. But it works — and one imagines this gave Chaplin additional confidence. However, his NEXT film refuses all sentiment, dispenses with the supporting cast, and pretty much leaves out the Little Fellow…

Bin Dreams

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2021 by dcairns

Chaplin is working in a bank in THE BANK, a variant on THE NEW JANITOR, a Keystone one-reeler that looks now like an early clue to the new direction — the Little Fellow as sympathetic underling, dreaming of greater things. In THE BANK, the more exciting part of the plot really IS a dream.

I’m uncertain about Chaplin’s frequent recourse to the dream narrative: in a bittersweet way, it can add a sting of pathos to a story, as in the New Year’s party in THE GOLD RUSH. When the dream eats up the whole movie, you feel a little short-changed, since nothing has really “happened” in the story. When you know it’s a dream, as in THE KID, there’s a danger of the fantasy going on too long, so that you’re looking at a scenario where nothing’s at stake. In that film, the dream really goes on about four times longer than I’d like, it’s a colossal misstep, and the film isn’t wrecked by it only because the rest is so brilliant it resists wrecking.

According to Ben Urwand’s deeply flawed book The Collaboration, Chaplin originally planned for the ending of THE GREAT DICTATOR to turn out to be all a dream, with the Jewish barber waking up from his Hynkel impersonation to find himself back in a concentration camp. That would have been bloody depressing and bloody strong. But I love how the film ends now, with an unformulated question. What does fake Hynkel do next? What will he be allowed to do?

THE BANK begins with Charlie coming to work. Big build-up to him getting his janitor’s uniform from the safe, which isn’t really a great pay-off since his usual costume prohibits us from suspecting he’s the manager. But this halfhearted gag allows Chaplin to set up most of the film’s spaces and their relationships to one another.

This is the most impressive set we’ve seen in a Chaplin film — genuinely large, imposing, convincing. For the last couple of pictures, the domestic environments have been more detailed and solid than you tended to get at Keystone, but this is actually grand.

Charlie’s character — and he’s called Charlie in this one — is not quite settled, so in this picture he can be spectacularly stupid. He doesn’t even know how to carry a mop without mishaps. A lot of the work-based slapstick is very much out of THE NEW JANITOR, as when he lifts a waste-basket upside-down and is surprised when it empties all over the office.

Edna works at the bank. By some quirk of nineteenteens fashion, her office clothes are reasonably fetching — at least they give her a waistline — whereas her leisure clothes in every other film save THE CHAMPION (sexy pullover) are hideously disfiguring. I suppose that by disguising her shape they make it possible for us to imagine she’s a thin girl unflatteringly dressed, instead of a slightly rounder girl unflatteringly dressed. She is a bit rounder than the current fashion, or indeed the nineteenteens fashion, comparing her to the other actresses in Chaplin films.

Anyway, her role here is interesting…

Billy Armstrong is Charlie’s co-worker, a subgump idiot who’s somehow more efficient at his job than Charlie, despite his glazed look. Armstrong has a very thick head of hair (and a very thick head, in this), and I believe he may have reinforced it with some product or produce to make it rise up like a wall of brown flame. He’s also grouchoed his eyebrows very severely. My favourite business involving him is his attempt to speak to Charlie through half a doorstop sandwich he’s crammed into his face. Charlie pauses his discourse and excavates the pulped bread from his maw with a pencil, prying loose doughy wads until Armstrong’s only barrier to fluency is his cookie-duster.

The loose opening of the film sets up these characters and also a bank teller, the president, and a disgruntled customer in silk hat and guyliner, all of whom are important for the upcoming dream.

But before that, pathos. The surly, lazy and mentally disorientated Charlie of this film seems an unlikely subject for pathos, but he’s not quite as obnoxious as the version of the character seen in THE TRAMP. Chaplin is slowly working out how to get the rambunctious knockabout stuff to play along with, around and maybe even THROUGH the sentiment. Charlie is generally rough with his co-workers — he tends to see himself as a superior sort of person, there’s certainly no collegial spirit. But he’s not bullying Armstrong, as he does with Paddy McGuire in THE TRAMP or his wretched old underling in THE PROPERTY MAN. He and Armstrong are just scrapping, and neither one has the upper hand for very long.

In the farce tradition, a misunderstanding is contrived. Edna is sweet on a bank teller, also called Charles. Chaplin seems to have been uninterested in seeing Edna share scenes with a conventional leading man type, since Charles is played by CARLTON STOCKDALE, a kind of jug-eared camel type. Stockdale came from Broncho Billy’s stock company at Essanay, and is otherwise best remembered for providing an alibi for Mary Miles Minter’s mom in the William Desmond Taylor shooting. He went on to join Griffith’s group and was a busy bit-player until 1943.

Edna prepares a gift of a necktie for this other Charles, with a loving note. Charlie sees this on her desk and thinks she loves him. He gets her a couple of measly roses and writes a note of his own. His spelling and handwriting have improved since THE TRAMP, at least.

Edna initially thinks the flowers are from Stockdale. There would be room here for farcical misunderstandings to multiply and complicate, but Chaplin isn’t interested in that. Edna realises the roses are from Charlie and bins them. Then she tears up his note. Then she sees him looking heartbroken and SNEERS. Edna is a right cow in this.

Usually in this kind of comic romance, the comedian has to find a way to keep the object of his desire sympathetic, even as she temporarily snubs him. But Chaplin is shrewd enough to know that this time it doesn’t actually matter, so he just plays it to the hilt.

Charlie retrieves the roses and stuffs them up his janitor’s jacket, next to his bosom, a bit of romantic masochism like the bloke in MANON DE SOURCE.

Charlie’s brokenheartedness threatens to rupture the tone, as his getting shot in THE TRAMP does, but he modulates it. Seeing Billy Armstrong preening into a hand mirror, Charlie kicks him out of frame out of sheer spite. But even this simple proven remedy does not relieve his melancholia. He sits on his bench, defeated.

The transition to dream sequence is managed quite smoothly, and probably might still fool people. True, the movie immediately turns into DIE HARD, but that sort of genre-fluidity was common in 1915. Robbers take over the bank. One of them is the disgruntled customer (John Rand, who would keep appearing in Chaplins up until MODERN TIMES), which helps tie things together. It’s a grace note — it’s not essential to set up a bankrobber outside the dream, but it makes things neater.

One of the robbers is herr future film director Lloyd Bacon, a regular, but a bank customer is played by another herr future film director, joining us for the first time, Wesley Ruggles. Makes sense that he was an actor, since his brother is Charlie Ruggles (a thing I never knew until very recently).

So, these bank robbers come pigalleying into the bank, and, hilariously, Stockdale panics and flees, shoving Edna in his craven terror. She falls, is grabbed by the robbers, struggling desperately. She’s been such a bitch it’s hard not to experience a warm glow of schadenfreude. Edna really throws herself into the melodrama here. Feels like every short Chaplin makes requires her to extend herself, and she always does. I think I’d seen her as a bit of a lump before, but watching the films in sequence brings out her range.

Charlie leaps into action, deploying his full range of martial-arts moves: the arse-kick, the roundhouse face slap, and the flying drop-kick to the sternum. He not only propels two of the robbers into the walk-in safe, he slams both the barred gate and the big safe door, spinning the wheel lock and twisting the combination dial. Those guys better hope that thing’s not time-locked. If it is, they better hope Jimmy Valentine’s in the area.

Edna has now swooned, so Charlie hefts her on his shoulder, not, it must be said, without a certain difficulty. Kind of a worker ant scenario going on. Picking up a robber’s fallen pistol while carrying Edna really puts the strain on. Charlie is striking a balance, I’d say, between getting the available comedy out of the situ, and fat-shaming his leading lady. It’s not offensive, just honest.

The remaining heisters are subdued with similar efficiency — Edna actually comes to the rescue when Charlie is at a loss. By the end of this, Charlie is proper knackered. I did one of my bigger lols when he sat on a fallen robber’s head to call the kops. Now the cowardly cur Stockdale is found cowering under a desk, and summarily dismissed. The wretch. Edna is ashamed of ever having fancied the man-camel, as well she should be. Her affections turn to the mentally incompetent janitor. This is the point where it really does feel like a dream sequence. I’m curious to see how Chaplin’s going to handle the romance in later Purviance co-starrers, because there seems no way to make it plausible. I really can’t remember how he works it. He’s going to have to get less stupid, and the social distance between them will have to be reduced if there’s going to be any future in it.

Is Edna thinking, “Well, he possibly saved my life, and the bank, and he fancies me, so I suppose I owe him at least a quick fumble”? Retrieving his roses from the waste paper basket where he’s just re-dropped them, she nestles her head on his chest while he stares at us in wonderment —

— and wakes up cuddling his mop. That mop’s been a very useful prop, but this is its finest moment. Palpable disappointment at the return to reality. Prefiguring the audience’s own literal disenchantment when the illusion of this film is over. Even the film stock deteriorates at this point, which seems perfect in a way.

Edna is back with the repulsive Stockdale. It may be unfair, but I can’t find it in myself to forgive him for his caddish behaviour in Charlie’s dream.

Charlie throws away the flowers, with accompanying back-kick. This is not so much pathos as bitterness, actually. He turns to walk away, tries to switch from mopish to upbeat, but doesn’t seem to have built the set big enough to pull it off — the open road is better suited to this — and then the film is cut off — probably at least a second or two missing, and it could make all the difference.

A step forward! The pathos is integrated into the tone, and ameliorated with comedy so it goes down smooth. The Essanay phase is beginning to build towards the maturity of Mutual, but a couple of stumbles lie ahead — not really Chaplin’s, more Essanay and Leo White’s…