A RUDIMENTARY TRAMP

Charlie Chaplin Making A Living (1914)

Watching Charlie Chaplin`s work for Keystone Studios is a bit like watching the earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons, and it may take a bit of adjustment for modern viewers. Like Walt Disney’s rodent, Chaplin’s Tramp persona was slowly polished into a screen character that audiences loved and rooted for. Populist tastes had much to do with this, but, in the process of refining the character for the masses, some of the Tramps’ rough edges were burned away. Revisiting the earliest incarnations of either character leads to a disconcerting discovery: the earliest versions were roughly etched and somewhat underdeveloped, but less predictable; they possessed not altogether sympathetic personality traits that contemporary audiences may find uncomfortable, especially when compared to their later refinements.
Charlie Chaplin Making A Living (1914)
Earlier this year, Flicker Alley released the restored Keystone Chaplin shorts. That restoration was long overdue. For years, public domain labels had churned out DVD prints that were so execrable as to be virtually unwatchable.

Charlie Chaplin Making A Living (1914).

In 1914 the Tramp is in his infancy, and his later self is only occasionally glimpsed. “Making A Living” (1914) is notable mainly as Chaplin’s screen debut. The Tramp is not yet born; rather, Chaplin appears as a swindling, Don Juan-like English dandy who foreshadows few characteristics of the famous persona. This mess of a film was directed by the Austrian native Henry “Suicide” Lehrman (so nicknamed by stuntmen because Lehrman, unconcerned about the danger of stunts, was risky to work for). Lehrman later dated actress Virginia Rappe. At the time of her death in the infamous Fatty Arbuckle scandal, Lehrman testified against Arbuckle at the trial and capitalized on the publicity. In the Chaplin at Keystone collection Lehrman appears as a reporter in Making a Living and as a film director in Chaplin’s second released film Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal. (which he also directed).

Charlie Chaplin Making A Living (1914


“Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal”. is the film in which audiences first saw Chaplin as the Tramp. This vast improvement over Chaplin’s debut was entirely improvised, shot in less than an hour. The Tramp shows up at an auto race and, spying a film crew, becomes obsessed with being the center of the camera’s attention. The race crowd is at first curious and then entertained by the intruding Tramp, who interacts with them. In his second film, Chaplin proves more innovative and considerably more talented than any of his co-stars or even his biggest influence at that time, Max Linder. The Tramp is sparkling and animated as the unashamed egoist, an extroverted, defiant “little man” whose stubborn spunk and ambition rise to the forefront when he, unsuccessfully, tries to convince the director and crowd that he is far more interesting than a silly race. This is one the funniest and most compact of the Keystone Chaplins.

Charlie Chaplin Kid Auto Races At Venice

Though released after Kid Auto Races, “Mabel’s Strange Predicament” was actually the first film in which Chaplin donned the Tramp persona. This film co-stars Mabel Normand, whose home-spun shop girl persona is still unique in the annuls of film history. Mabel’s tragic life and premature death is the stuff of legend, befitting Jerry Herman’s splendid, underrated 1974 musical “Mack and Mabel” (the CD recording features the inimitable Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters). Normand’s films are still neglected, although three of her features, “Mickey (1920)”, “What Happened to Rosa (1921)” and “The Extra Girl (1923)” have been released on DVD and are good showcases for her screen persona. Normand herself (awkwardly) directed Mabel’s Strange Predicament. Although Chaplin was undoubtedly the superior craftsman, Richard Attenborough’s unflattering portrait of Normand in his pedestrian biopic Chaplin (1992), starring Robert Downey Jr. as Chaplin and Marisa Tomei as Mabel, is inaccurate and unfair. Normand clearly influenced and mentored Chaplin, and she was actually the only one of his Keystone directors with whom he had a mostly amiable working relationship. Chaplin does a convincing drunk act as the ever amorous Tramp who, after pursuing several other girls, comes across Mabel’s sexually provocative (for its time) after-hours pajama girl, locked out of her room by a dog and a bouncing ball. Chaplin and Normand play off of each other fairly well here, though it’s solely due to their idiosyncratic mismatch. Despite the stars’ odd chemistry, the film is melodramatic and overstays its welcome. Chaplin’s inebriated Tramp makes later lush acts, such as Dean Martin’s, seem comparatively cartoonish.

Charlie Chaplin Mabel's Strange Predicament

Much was made over the recent discovery of the believed-to-be-lost “A Thief Catcher”, directed by Ford Sterling, who is actually the star here. Chaplin has a bit part as a Keystone Kop, which is mainly of interest as a precursor to his role as policeman in the later Mutual masterpiece, Easy Street (1917). Harold Lloyd once claimed that Sterling was the best of the silent comedians. Today, looking at Sterling’s work in front of and behind the camera, Lloyd’s proclamation seems dubious.

Charlie Chaplin Thief Catcher

“Between Showers” is the last Chaplin film directed by Lehrman. It again stars Sterling, and it is one of the flattest of the Chaplin Keystones. Sterling and Chaplin star as the Masher and the Rival Masher, who engage in embarrassingly rudimentary slapstick over damsel-in-distress Emma Clifton. Clifton is seeking gentlemanly assistance in crossing a muddy puddle. Chester Conklin, in his typical and dull kop routine, disrupts the menage a trios. Between Showers is mostly notable as the film which introduced the Tramp’s shoulder shrug, skid, the “Tramp walk”, the nose-thumbing, and the adolescent hand-over-mouth laugh.

Charlie Chaplin Between Showers

“A Film Johnnie” was directed unimaginatively by George Nichols. The Tramp waxes amorous over Keystone girl Virginia Kirtley after seeing her in a western at the nickelodeon. Charlie signs up as an extra in Kirtley’s latest film. Not for the last time, the Tramp will mistake a film shoot for a real-life damsel-in-distress situation. Naturally, chaos ensues. Along the way, Keystone’s roster of stars, including Fatty Arbuckle (playing himself) appear to lend Charlie support. Another Chaplin trademark bit is introduced here: utilizing a prop for something other than its usual purpose: a pistol is used first as toothpick and later as a lighter for his cigarette.

Charlie Chaplin A Film Johnnie

While Keystone founder Mack Sennett was uneven in his duties as a producer, he was even more uneven as a director. Sennett was behind the camera for Tango Tangles, which mainly features Sterling and Arbuckle, with an out-of-costume Chaplin stuck on the sidelines. Chaplin, fresh faced and appearing, uncomfortably, sans makeup, looks every bit the bland romantic lead type of the period. “Tango Tangles” was filmed at the Venice Dance Hall and stars Minta Durfee (Arbuckle’s wife at the time) as the much fought over hat-check gal. Despite his handsome looks and awkward exposure, Chaplin does a convincing drunk again, albeit briefly. Arbuckle, perhaps surprising to contemporary audiences, is quite athletic, despite his girth. In this, Arbuckle prefigures the equally athletic (and even more rotund) Oliver Hardy.

Charlie Chaplin Roscoe Arbuckle Tango Tangles

Nichols was back to directing Chaplin in “His Favorite Pastime.” Chaplin thankfully returns to the Tramp characterization, and although this is a better film than its predecessor, it is a sore spot in being one of the few Chaplin films which features blackface comedy (although not done by Chaplin). Of course, Chaplin did not direct or write this one, and the star’s well-known disapproval of racist portrayals in film is in sharp contrast to peers such as Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Harry Langdon, all of whom had no qualms about resorting to blackface for yuks. Chaplin’s discomfort with stereotypes placed him well ahead of his time. Peggy Pearce was his love interest, and she is the first of Chaplin’s many co-stars with whom he had an off-screen relationship.

Charlie Chaplin His Favorite Pastime

“Cruel, Cruel Love” is another Nichols-directed Keystone short. Chaplin and this director had a turbulent working relation, and it shows. The star was clearly out of Nichols’ league, and what little there to enjoy about Cruel, Cruel Love is most likely due to Chaplin’s contributions. Chaplin plays the aristocratic Lord Helpus (indeed) who decides to poison himself after he mistakenly believes he has been rejected by Minta Durfee. Thanks to his amused butler (Edgar Kennedy) Helpus mistakenly drinks water instead of poison and imagines himself (briefly) in a Georges Méliès-styled hell. Always one to rework an idea, Chaplin later expanded on the mistaken poison gag in his black comedy, “Monsieur Verdoux (1947).”

Charlie Chaplin Cruel, Cruel Love

“The Star Boarder” again co-stars Minta Durfee. Nichols directs Chaplin for the last time and Chaplin’s later, daintily OCD Tramp who would appear in his pictures for Mutual is briefly glimpsed. Durfee is the Tramp’s landlord and she clearly likes him better than her brutish husband (Edgar Kennedy) or her terror of a son (Gordon Griffith). There is a brief, out of place tennis-match-as-aphrodisiac between Chaplin and Durfee. As in many later Chaplin films, it is a sequence that fits poorly with the rest of the narrative that is most memorable.

Charlie Chaplin Star Boarder

 

Charlie Chaplin Mabel At The Wheel

“Mabel at the Wheel” was the first of Chaplin’s two-reelers, and was co-directed by Normand and Sennett . As written by Normand, Chaplin here is in a Ford Sterling-like villain role (at which Chaplin is far betterthan Sterling). Normand is the nominal star, but Chaplin steals every scene he is in, and Normand the director lets him (she was far more generous to `competitive’ talent than Chaplin ever would be). This is a handsomely mounted film dealing with an auto race and has Chaplin atypically behind the wheel (unlike Keaton, Chaplin was a bit of a technophobe who never learned to drive). Although “Mabel at the Wheel” cannot be categorized as a “Chaplin” film, it is Keystone at its near-best, chock-full of period spectacle and dastardly villains.

Charlie Chaplin Twenty Minutes Of Love

Chaplin once said “all I need to make a picture is a park, a policeman, and a pretty girl.” “Twenty Minutes of Love” is the first film for which Chaplin gets co-directing credit (along with Joseph Maddern). Chaplin uses that already well-worn formula but, unfortunately, it results in a too-standard park comedy with co-star Minta Durfee hopelessly cute in her Mother Goose-like getup.

Charlie Chaplin Caught in a Cabaret 1914

“Caught in a Cabaret” is another Mabel Normand film and Chaplin’s second two-reeler. Again,Normand the director points the actor’s spotlight on her co-star. Additionally, she co-wrote the film with Chaplin, and was instrumental in building up his character. “Caught in a Cabaret” is superior to the previous “Mabel’s Strange Predicament” and feels, at times, like a precursor to what is, arguably, Chaplin’s greatest feature, “The Gold Rush (1925).”

Charlie Chaplin Caught in a Cabaret

The Tramp is fully encased in Keystone edginess here as he is determined to impress an out-of-his-league high society girl. He works as a waiter in a cabaret under the dictatorial Edgar Kennedy. Although we are meant to root for the Tramp here, our sympathies are not unreserved. He is rude and selfish and the film opens with him mistreating a female customer by stealing her drink. During lunch break, the Tramp is taking his canine out for a walk (to attract the fairer sex) when a young boy (Gordon Griffith) tries to steal his dog. Charlie does not hesitate to violently knock the tyke to the ground. Next, the Tramp comes upon a “society bud” (Normand) as she is being mugged in the park. The Tramp chases off the mugger while Normand’s sissified, rich boyfriend (Harry McCoy) helplessly cowers from afar. Charlie passes himself off as the Greenland ambassador Baron Doobugle and Mabel takes her hero home to meet the kinfolk. Mabel invites “The Baron” to a party and Charlie hurries back, quite late, to his job with the jealous McCoy following him. Fellow waiter Charles Conklin is quick to inform Kennedy of the Tramp’s tardiness, which will reap Conklin a thorough beating from the Tramp shortly after. Of course, Kennedy gives Charlie a firm scolding. Regular Sennett heavy Mack Swain appears to annoy hostess Minta Durfee; Chaplin puts a stop to that with the end of a mallet. Charlie plays the ladies man at Mabel’s soiree and he is literally the life of the party, further arousing Kennedy’s jealousy. Once Charlie leaves (to get back to work again) Kennedy hauls the partygoers off to the cabaret to expose his nemesis’ true identity. A barroom brawl results and Mabel ends the film by taking a brickbat to her phony Baron.

Charlie Chaplin Caught in the Rain

Charlie Chaplin`s first solo directorial effort, “Caught in the Rain”, is an inauspicious one. It starts off as another comedy in the “day at the park” subgenre. Alice Davenport flirts with Charlie after her husband, Mack Swain, walks off on an errand. Compromising positions follow, of course, taken straight from Keystone founder Mack Sennett’s gag assembly line. Sennett himself directed the next six Chaplin shorts.

Charlie Chaplin A Busy Day

“A Busy Day” features Charlie in drag, trying to disrupt a parade in a shameless rip-off of his previous Kid Auto Races At Venice. A Fatal Mallet also stars Sennett (a rare appearance, and for good reason–his acting is more uneven than his directing) fighting with Charlie over girly girl Mabel. They are both dull Sennett products exhibiting little craftsmanship or art.

“The Knockout” is a half hour long, an epic for Keystone. It is basically a Fatty Arbuckle boxing vehicle with Charlie coming between prize fighter Fatty and Edgar Kennedy. Chaplin’s ballet-like brand of slapstick (barely) salvages the film, and “The Knockout” again makes it abundantly clear why Chaplin quickly outshone his peers.

“Mabel’s Busy Day” is an eccentric step up. Mabel is the much put upon, unkempt hot dog vendor at a race track. Charlie, as a dandy, arrives amidst much shenanigans, including dance-like slapstick with some Keystone Kops. Charlie spies the patrons abusing poor Mabel. He comforts her and, when her back is turned, he steals her hardware to go into business for himself, with predictably disastrous results. Chaplin here is without sympathy, even if he ends up as abused as the girl he himself abused and, realizing what she has been put through, finds enough pity for her to accompany her through the iris out. Again, the odd chemistry between Charlie and Mabel inexplicably works, although Chaplin would find more apt female counterparts later in his career.

Charlie Chaplin Mabel's Married Life

Chaplin co-wrote “Mabel’s Married Life” with Norman and, although Sennett officially directed, it is moving towards the style film historians will later term “Chaplinesque”; it is easily the best of the Sennett-directed Chaplin Keystones. Charlie and Mabel are a married couple out on a Sunday promenade in the park. Charlie grudgingly shares his banana with the Mrs. He momentarily steps into an inn, which gives Mack Swain ample opportunity to stop and flirt with Mabel. The little fellow doesn’t have much substance compared to big Mack. Mack’s wife (Eva Nelson) arrives in time to put a temporary stop to the antics of the trio. Charlie blames Mabel and sends her home, which gives him plenty of time to return to the bar. On her way home, Mabel buys a life-size dummy (?) from a shop. When the store’s delivery boys arrive with the dummy, Mabel is embarrassed to be caught only in her PJs (it is 1914). She wraps a leopard skin rug around her torso and sends the boys packing. While Mabel engages in balletic slapstick with her new boy toy, Charlie is engaged in slapstick of a more, inebriated violent nature with Big Mack and locals at the inn. Worn out by the dummy, Mabel jumps into bed. Charlie staggers into their apartment and predictably mistakes the dummy for Mack. Charlie’s fight with the dummy is classic Keystone. When he believes Mabel has been unfaithful, Charlie starts straggling her, much to the horror of eavesdropping neighbors. The dummy gets in a few more whacks at both Charlie and Mabel before she pulls off the dummy’s hat, much to Charlie’s amusement. Charlie and Mabel end their silly fight with a kiss.

Charlie Chaplin Laughing Gas

“Laughing Gas” was written and directed by Chaplin, and with him now fully in control, we see a vast improvement over the previous Keystone efforts. This is a frantic, delightfully amoral short with the Tramp as a janitor for a dentist, and he’s particularly cruel to his employer’s patients and to a dwarf assistant (Joseph Sutherland). Charlie’s boss is Dr. Pain (Fritz Schade) and Charlie is not above flirting with Mrs. Pain (the underrated Alice Howell, a favorite of Stan Laurel’s). On the way to the pharmacy Charlie knocks out Mack Swain’s teeth with a flying brick, thus giving Dr. Pain yet another customer (Chaplin later reworked that business in his debt feature, 1921’s The Kid, he and Jackie Coogan intentionally throw bricks through windows to drum up paying customers for their glass replacement business). There is quite a bit of erotic interplay between Charlie and Alice, then between Charlie and patient Helen Carruthers, whom Charlie takes advantage of when he takes pliers to her nose in order to plant a kiss on her lips. Charlie steps on customers, brutalizes them, mocks clergymen, and clearly only cares for the pretty girls. He is an unrepentant hedonist (a fact which predictably endeared this incarnation of the Tramp to many of the Surrealists).

Charlie Chaplin The Property Man

“The Property Man” is the first two-reeler solely written and directed by Chaplin. He plays a prop man at a vaudeville theater. Charlie likes to drink beer backstage, smoke cigarettes, bark orders, and brutally abuse his elderly, Quasimodo-like assistant (Josef Swickard). Charlie gets kicked around by the Strong Man (Jess Dandy), but Charlie, in turn, callously kicks his assistant in the face. Charlie flirts with the Goo Goo Sisters (Vivian Edwards and Cecile Arnold) and cleverly utilizes the stage props in numerous slapstick gags. Mack Sennet shows up as a patron who boos the bad acts and cheers the (unintentional) funny man Charlie. Chaplin would later rework and draw out this idea in The Circus (1928). The chaos climaxes with Charlie taking a hose to all, another gag he would revisit in the inferior A King in New York (1957). Despite the crudeness, Chaplin’s sharpening skills paint him as our protagonist.

“The Face on the Barroom Floor” is an oddity in the Chaplin Keystone cannon. It is a satire of the Hugh Antoine d’ Arcy poem, telling the tale of an anti-social vagabond who strolls into a tavern and (after spitting on the ass of a sleeping patron?!?) solicits multiple drinks from the local sailors as he recounts his fall from grace. Through flashback Charlie narrates his life as a successful painter (painters were a lifelong source of romantic fascination for Chaplin), ruined when his love (Cecile Arnold) runs off with his model (Jess Dandy). The d’ Arcy poem is quoted throughout the short, and Chaplin contrasts the tuxedoed painter with the filthy, dejected vagabond. The painter unwittingly sits on his palette, eats his paint, and sullies his clothes. As the vagabond, Chaplin obsessively sketches the image of his lost love on the tavern floor, but, in his drunken state, he only manages a shoddy smiley face. Violent barroom antics ensue when the locals try to kick him out. The vagabond collapses, falling face down in his own drawing (in the poem, the vagabond falls down dead). Barroom Floor is not so much a comedy as a brief, dramatic sketch in which Chaplin’s screen persona acknowledges and celebrates being an annoyance. Although Chaplin’s acting here is more advanced than in the earlier efforts,this is a film which would have benefited from the nuanced pathos of later Chaplin. Still, it’s an interesting, ambitious attempt to break free of formula.

Charlie Chaplin Recreation

“Recreation” is another park comedy, in badly deteriorated condition. The Tramp is suicidal until a pretty girl (Helen Carruthers) happens along. Charlie’s newfound zest for life gets short-shifted when her sailor boyfriend and the Kops come along to spoil things. It all ends with brick throwing and everyone in the lake.

In “The Masquerader” Chaplin and Arbuckle start off, as themselves, in a typical day at the film studio. Fatty inexplicably vanishes after Charlie transforms into the Tramp and the cameras roll. Charlie flirts with a couple of dishy tomatoes, misses his cue, and gets sacked by the callous director. What’s a Tramp to do? Charlie dons his best Mrs. Doubtfire, gets a job as an actress, and flirts with the boys before his ruse is discovered and he winds up at the bottom of a well! Since it’s a one-reeler, there is no real time to milk the potential (Chaplin will do that in Essanay Studio’s 1915 A Woman), but this is a resplendent sketch.

Charlie Chaplin His New Profession

Two Sinatra-styled duets: “His New Profession” teams Chaplin with Charley Chase. Chaplin is looking through the Police Gazette in the park when Chase hires the Tramp to look after his inconvenience: a wheel-chair bound uncle, thus freeing Chase to tend to a pretty girl. Chaplin wheels the annoying crippled guy around the pier. The Tramp wants a beer and steals money from another annoying crip. Predictably, chaos escalates with the two paraplegics engaging in wheel-chair slapstick, and Chaplin trying to steal Chase’s girl. Throw in a couple of Keystone Kops and bodies falling from the pier and this winds up as a representative example of early cinema anti-PC amoralism.

Charlie Chaplin The Rounders“The Rounders” is Chaplin’s only genuine teaming with Arbuckle, and that is regrettable because they make a charismatic pair. Charlie and Fatty are a couple of married rounders. Charlie is married to the abusive dyke Phyllis Allen, while Fatty abuses Minta Durfee. Al St. John and Charley Chase make cameo appearances, but it’s Chaplin and Arbuckle who serve as rudimentary precursors to the Laurel and Hardy brand of team comedy. The scenario is thin, but primitively amusing. The two disdainful hubbies pair up for a night of the town and much pouring of liquor. The wives will come a-hunting; the boys will find refuge in a park and a sinking rowboat.

Charlie Chaplin The New Janitor

“The New Janitor” has a more intricate plot. Charlie is a janitor working in a bank firm. One of the junior managers (John T. Dillon) is being blackmailed for unpaid debts, and plans to steal money from the vault to pay off his blackmailer. Meanwhile, Charlie gets fired for dumping a bucket of water onto the bank president (Jess Dandy). Bank employee Helen Carruthers catches Dillon in mid-thievery. She yells for help. Charlie, on the verge of clearing out, hears her, foils the robbery and gets mistaken for the thief. The real culprit is finally revealed and Charlie is rewarded with a raise. Chaplin would remake the film, as “The Bank” (1915), at Essanay Studios. Chaplin’s later trademark sentimentality is in evidence here, albeit subdued.

“Those Love Pangs” pairs Chaplin with Charles Conklin again as rival mashers, fighting over a bevy of women. First they compete over their landlord (Helen Carruthers), then reliable Keystone regulars Cecile Arnold and Vivian Edwards (as prostitutes!). The girls prefer Conklin, which prompts suicide attempt by Charlie, put a stop to by a Kop. Chaplin winds up with the girls and, of course, it ends in chaos at a local cinema. Chaplin alone makes it watchable with idiosyncratic vignettes which have nothing to do with the narrative. He perfects his cigarette kicking here and turns his cane into a toothpick.

“Dough and Dynamite” is another two-reeler and became the biggest hit among Chaplin’s Keystone films. Charlie is a waiter who outdoes himself in his abuse towards a customer. He and fellow waiter Conklin are forced into the kitchen when the bakers go on strike. Naturally there is frantic slapstick hijinks aplenty, but it’s Chaplin’s slower paced characterizations that make this a Keystone stand-out. He turns dough into bracelets and rings, and with powder on his hands he intentionally and unintentionally gets his floury hands on the daily duties of several dames, including the boss’ wife (Norma Nichols). Big boss man (Fritz Schade) sees Charlie’s handprint where it don’t belong, and it ends in an apocalyptic, dough-slinging finale. The boys are unaware that the striking bakers have planted dynamite in a fatal loaf, and at the end the war-weary Tramp emerges from a sea of bread, bricks and mortars.

Mabel was back with Chaplin in ” and, although a nominal film, it is good to see them together again. Charlie is Mr. Wow Wow who, with Mr. Walrus (Mack Swain) sneaks into the track. Charlie spies a pretty girl with a soda, plops down next to her, and steals sips. Mabel is saddled with the roving eyes of Charles Conklin; eventually she winds up with the more appreciative Chaplin.

Charlie Chaplin His Musical Career

Chaplin is a piano mover in “His Musical Career”, a precursor of sorts to Laurel and Hardy`s “Music Box (1932).” It’s exactly what you would expect, with Charlie having an extremely rough go of it, ending up in a lake. Laurel and Hardy improved on the subject, but Chaplin’s influence on the later film is undeniable.

Charlie Chaplin Mabel Normand His Trysting Place

“His Trysting Places” is a two-reel ensemble piece and all the better for it. Chaplin and Mabel are a not so blissfully wedded couple. She is stuck with the cooking and the infant. She hands the baby to Charlie who takes the tyke in arm like an old suitcase. Charlie clearly can’t be bothered with the brat, and hands his son a real pistol to play with so he can read the paper uninterrupted. In striking contrast, we see the happy domesticity of Mack Swain and Phyllis Allen. Chaplin edits these sequences like a string duet, and laces it with swelling cynicism. Charlie and Mack run into each other in a nearby restaurant, and there is a scene with them fighting over food, including a chicken leg (prefiguring their starvation scene in Chaplin’s masterpiece, The Gold Rush, in which Mack imagines Charlie to be a chicken). On their way out of the ensuing chaos, Charlie and Mack mistakenly grab each other’s coats. In Mack’s coat is a letter, to his wife, suggesting a romantic meeting at their trysting place in the park. In Charlie’s coat is a list for baby’s grocery needs. Naturally, Mabel finds Mack’s letter in the coat she believes belongs to Charlie. Convinced her husband is having an affair, she wallops him and then goes to find the other woman at the rendezvous spot. At the park, Phyllis discovers the grocery list in her husband’s pocket and is convinced he is hiding an illegitimate child. It all plays out like an identity mix-up from “The Marriage of Figaro.”

Charlie and Mack do a wife swap in “Getting Acquainted.” Here, Charlie is married to Phyllis and Mack is married to Mabel. This movie is noteworthy as the last teaming of Chaplin and Normand. It all takes in the park, and the respective husbands are ambitious about dropping their wives to flirt with other girls around. A Kop from the flirting patrol tries to quell the Don Juan syndrome. The usual park slapstick is present, but it’s subdued for a Keystone comedy, and there is a prevailing farewell sentiment hovering over the film.

“His Prehistoric Past” was Chaplin’s final film for Sennett, and it sounds far more promising than what it actually delivers. Chaplin dreams he is strolling through a prehistoric park. Mack Swain is a rival neanderthal. It could have used a Raquel Welch or a dinosaur or two.

“Tillie’s Punctured Romance” was Keystone’s first feature, and the first feature comedy film of any kind. Although made before “Getting Acquainted”, it was released several months later. The star here is Marie Dressler, who also starred in the Broadway musical on which the movie was based. Chaplin, as a city slicker, steals everything but the camera. Mabel is Charlie’s ex, and knows that Charlie is after Marie because of a potential inheritance from her rich uncle. The Keystone Kops are also on hand, and although feature length slapsticks usually outstay their welcome, Tillie does not.

Charlie Chaplin Marie Dressler Mabel Normand TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE

“Chaplin at Keystone” also features a 1916 animated French short, Charlie’s White Elephants, which crudely pays homage to Chaplin and Arbuckle. “Inside the Keystone Project” is a documentary which follows the painstaking, eight year restoration of the films.

Charlie Chaplin Marie Dressler Mabel Normand TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE

Chaplin perfected the short film format during his stay at Mutual Studios. Many critics consider his Mutual shorts to be his best. There is much to be found as well in the Essanay shorts, made between Keystone and Mutual. Keystone co-stars Mabel Normand and Fatty Arbuckle would each have tragic falls from grace, while Chaplin went onto unparalleled success. Indeed, he is almost the only silent star whose films are still regularly revived.

Charlie Chaplin Marie Dressler Mabel Normand TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE

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About Alfred Eaker

Alfred Eaker is fine arts painter, filmmaker, and has a masters degree in theology. He currently lives in Portland, oregon with his wife: Aja Rossman-Gray.
This entry was posted in BLUEMAHLER'S WORLD OF SILENT CINEMA, Film Reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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