The Chaplin Revue (1959)
The Chaplin Revue (1959)

Genre: Slapstick Running Time: 1 hr. 59 min.

Release Date: September 25th, 1959 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Charles Chaplin Actors: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Mack Swain, Syd Chaplin, Loyal Underwood, Dinky Reisner, Chuck Reisner

 


 

“T

he Chaplin Revue” consists of three earlier shorts, “A Dog’s Life,” “Shoulder Arms,” and “The Pilgrim,” all comedies without words, in which Chaplin provides new narrations between episodes. He begins with footage of the construction of his studio and behind-the-scenes shots of formulating concepts on the spot with co-stars, with popular leading lady Edna Purviance among them. He composed new music too, stringing together the shorts into a feature-length session, though they are not edited (or butchered) to be completely congruous. It’s a comic ballet, with music and action and no yakety-yakking or sound effects, preserving the manner in which audiences from the early 1900s would have viewed them originally.

“A Dog’s Life” (1918) begins at dawn with the legendary tramp attempting to sleep in an abandoned, dilapidated lot, walled in only by a fence that has more holes than not. After a run-in with the cops, he’s acquainted with Scraps, a thoroughbred mongrel in a similar position as the destitute little man. Their misadventures include sneaking into the Green Lantern dance hall, where Edna Purviance plays a shy singer inadequate in the art of flirting (or choosing a heedless target for attention), eluding the authorities repeatedly, and stumbling upon buried loot that a duo of crooks tries to gain back with brute force and pistols.

The dog is cute and talented, serving as a perfect sidekick for the tramp, and an obvious precursor for 1921’s “The Kid,” in which a delightful child replaces the mutt. As usual, there’s time for a romance with a petite girl in commensurate monetary desperation and the accompanying, unavoidable pathos, mustering sympathy for the underdogs (of which there are several, as the double entendre title would insinuate). The slapstick and gags, including a memorable scene in which Chaplin uses his own arms in place of an unconscious robber’s to mimic a conversation, are some of the most creative of his career. Of the three films, it’s easily the best.

Actual scenes of fighting from World War I, from the archives of the Imperial War Museum, segue into the next segment, the longer (approximately 45 minutes), feature-length-qualifying “Shoulder Arms” (1918), in which Chaplin plays a doughboy who can’t seem to march appropriately, thanks to his outwardly pointing feet. Later, on the front lines in the trenches, he’s an awkward soldier (given the unlucky identification of #13) who appears incapable of simply entering and exiting his bunker. Receiving no news from home, save for a shockingly odorous limburger, he retires to his quarters, which are underwater due to rain.

The enemy is led by a remarkably diminutive commander, barking orders to his comparatively enormous men, who are single-handedly captured by the doughboy, who explains simply, “I surrounded them.” He’s also an expert shot, spontaneously transforming into a highly skilled warrior overnight (though retaining his peculiar canter). He volunteers for a daring mission to infiltrate the enemy lines by donning a costume of a tree, heroically confronting troops and foiling an execution before wandering into the demolished home of French girl Edna Purviance (billed above Chaplin). Here, the film trumpets Chaplin’s acrobatic slapstick, a clever stunt with the collapsing house, and finally a gallant switcheroo not unlike the one seen in “The Great Dictator.” By the end, he’s a celebrated war hero – but only in his dreams.

In the final short (running approximately 40 minutes), “The Pilgrim” (1923), an escaped convict (Chaplin), known under the aliases “Lefty Lombard” and “Slippery Elm,” with a $1000 reward on his head, swipes the clothes of a man of the cloth. He randomly heads for Texas, where, coincidentally, Reverend Philip Pim from Devil’s Gulch is scheduled to arrive on Sunday. On the train, reusing a brief piece of one of the best bits from “Tillie’s Punctured Romance,” Lombard is seated next to a large man who happens to reveal a badge under his jacket, inciting a panic. At his destination, Sheriff Bryan (Tom Murray) welcomes the convict as Mr. Pim and introduces him promptly to the church members. The portly Deacon Jones (Mack Swain) brings him to the services, which he’s expected to conduct and give a sermon – though instead he struggles not to take up every vice while in the house of god.

This film exhibits Chaplin’s signature slapstick and physical routines (along with the hilarious peering at the camera), mixing in romance with the young Miss Brown (Edna Purviance, again getting top billing), an amusing skit with a puffy-cheeked toddler who continually slaps, punches, stabs, and throws water at Chaplin, and the assembling of a cake that is accidentally a hat. He also combats the crooked Howard Huntington (Chuck Reisner), alias “Nitro Nick” and “Picking Pete,” the pilgrim’s former cellmate, who plots to swindle the Browns. Reisner’s son Dinky plays the part of the nagging toddler. And the theme song, “I’m Bound for Texas,” is of course written by Chaplin, though sung by Matt Monroe. “The Pilgrim,” in form with the others, features a sensationally satisfying conclusion.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10