Genre: Romantic Comedy and Slapstick Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.
Release Date: January 19th, 1938 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Charles Chaplin Actors: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell, Albert Austin, Leo White, Lloyd Bacon, Frank J. Coleman
etween May of 1916 and October of 1917, Charles Chaplin produced a collection of twelve short comedies for the Mutual Film Corporation. These were done after his years at Keystone and Essanay, and are often thought of as some of his most significant works, lending to his subsequent years at First National and into the feature-length film, “The Kid.” Here in the “Charlie Chaplin Carnival,” the auteur collected together four of the Mutuals for a re-release in 1938, strung together with new music and sound effects.
“The Count,” originally released on September 4th, 1916, was the fifth of the series, reworking many of the concepts seen in the Keystone comedy “Caught in a Cabaret” to highlight the disparity between the rich and poor. Here, Chaplin is a tailor’s assistant, stumbling his way through taking erroneous measurements, burning clothing with an iron, and even toying with his towering boss (the inimitable “Goliath” Eric Campbell) – until he’s summarily dismissed. But the main premise involves Count Broko, who is unable to attend a dinner party with Miss Moneybags (Edna Purviance), resulting in the tailor taking the opportunity to impersonate the elite, with his assistant quite coincidentally available to portray the personal secretary. Identity mix-ups, meal mishaps (Chaplin’s goofy consumption of watermelon requires swabbing his whole face), and slapstick tumbles compose the majority of this picture, though a rather athletically ungainly dance sequence (and subsequent food fight) is one of the highlights (Chaplin and Campbell trade kicks to the rear as well, a routine that reappears in almost all of the remaining Mutuals). (5/10)
“The Vagabond,” opening in theaters on July 10th, 1916, was the third of the 12-film collection, focusing on drama over outright comedy. Nevertheless, the titular tramp starts off with the comic opposition of a multi-piece band performing loudly across from his station, as a lone violin player. Begging for change becomes an uphill battle, until he unintentionally collects money for the quartet of which he’s not a part, leading to a barroom brawl. Nearby, Edna Purviance is a gypsy drudge (not unlike the gamine from “Modern Times”), cruelly lashed by the chief (Eric Campbell) for not scrubbing the laundry in a timely manner. So to her rescue comes the derelict violinist, engaging in a greater sense of excitement and adventure than typically found in the Mutual shorts. As with most in the series, “The Vagabond” is essentially a gathering of two or three simpler, somewhat disparate concepts strung together, here transitioning from the abusive gypsy clan to an uninspired painter discovering his muse, fostering a love triangle. Ultimately, the plot shifts even further away from the start, culminating in a reunion between aristocratic mother and lost daughter – and a notably heartwarming finale. (8/10)
“The Fireman” was the second Mutual comedy, released on June 12th, 1916. Its opening moments are perhaps the most standardly cartoonish of the series, featuring extremely exaggerated choreography as a fire chief (Campbell) assembles his team, with Chaplin’s idiotic horse wrangler failing his duties at every turn. Rag-doll-manhandling and kicks to rears are the main source of slapstick, demonstrating a more primitive sensibility, akin to Chaplin’s earlier Keystone and Essanay works. Additionally, chaotic messes with foodstuff and continual tussles with coworkers crop up with regularity, marking this short as the most nuttily violent of the bunch. Curiously, Chaplin’s fireman (as well as the whole crew) is not only inept, he’s so willfully negligent that his persona is downright exasperating and dislikable. Expectedly, a man’s house burns to the ground, while an insurance scam fire finds Edna Purviance trapped on the top floor of a building. Fortunately, the dimwitted firefighter manages to save the damsel in distress, though he certainly doesn’t come across as much of a hero. (3/10)
“Behind the Screen” was the seventh Mutual short (premiering on November 13th, 1916), building upon ideas from the Keystone comedies “A Film Johnny” and “The Property Man.” As an aspiring actress (Purviance) is turned away, the aptly named stagehand Goliath (Campbell) loafs around sets while his incompetent assistant David (Chaplin) bustles back and forth from stage to stage, wreaking havoc and injuring crewmen everywhere he goes. Although the plot and happenings have evolved slightly from the earlier entries, there’s still a considerable focus on funny food follies (even culminating in an epic pie-slinging contest) and smaller gags that are largely unrelated to the moviemaking premise. It should also be noted how good Albert Austin is here, a very recognizable, recurring supporting actor who appears in all twelve of the Mutual comedies. (4/10)
– Mike Massie