Charlie Chaplin Cavalcade (1941)
Charlie Chaplin Cavalcade (1941)

Genre: Romantic Comedy and Slapstick Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: August 20th, 1941 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Charles Chaplin Actors: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell, Albert Austin, Leo White, Lloyd Bacon, Frank J. Coleman

 


 

R

eleased the same year as the “Charlie Chaplin Festival” (1941), the “Charlie Chaplin Cavalcade” gathers four of the director’s shorts from the Mutual Film Company during his time there between 1916 and 1917. Though they’re out of order (he made twelve pictures in all, earning $10,000 weekly with compete artistic freedom to write, direct, and star, without interference from studio executives) and aren’t arranged in a discernibly important manner, the act of collecting a few together for a theatrical re-release provides an opportunity for newer audiences to experience these silent classics with updated music and sound. “Fulfilling the Mutual contract, I suppose, was the happiest period of my career,” he stated in his autobiography.

“One A.M.,” the fourth short in the series, originally premiering on August 7th, 1916, is most notable for Chaplin’s solo act (save for the taxi driver, briefly played by Albert Austin, who appears in a minor role in all twelve Mutuals); he may be his standard drunkard, but he’s usually aided by love interest Edna Purviance and villainous heavy Eric Campbell, who are both conspicuously absent. Instead of the tramp, Chaplin is his alternate identity of an upper-class, liquor-sopped fop, who struggles furiously with gaining entry to his stately home, slipping and sliding across the foyer, scolding his tiger-skin rug (and an assortment of other taxidermy trophies), and trying to pour yet another drink from a spinning table. His inebriated routine is well-rehearsed and involves a wide array of props (even a staircase poses pronounced challenges), but the concept is far too simple for its approximately 25-minute runtime (even if it foretells the technological foul-ups later seen in “Modern Times”). Perhaps this was indeed the best selection to start off this short-subject foursome. (4/10)

“The Pawn Shop,” the sixth Mutual short, released on October 2nd, 1916, uses an exceptional amount of props in a proper business environment – something unusual for both Chaplin’s tramp and his rich souse. He’s nevertheless an inept employee of a recognizable variety, failing spectacularly at dusting, cleaning, and avoiding major accidents. A ladder skit is particularly clever and dangerous-looking, featuring plenty of teetering, swinging, and tripping. And the constant quarreling taking place with a coworker (John Rand) is surprisingly physical and rambunctious. Edna Purviance makes an appearance as the owner’s daughter, to impart a glimmer of a love story, but the bulk of the film is over-the-top slapstick and nonsensical pawnbroking episodes that involve scammers and crooks (including Chaplin’s own inane attempts to fix a clock or pacify feisty fish). (6/10)

“The Floorwalker,” debuting on May 15th, 1916, was the first of the twelve Mutual shorts, and as such was designed very much in the tradition of his earlier slapstick works. The general manager (Eric Campbell, adorned with his signature bushy eyebrows and gargantuan beard) is up to no good at a department store, while a customer from hell (Chaplin) wanders about, trying numerous products (of which he has no intention of purchasing), making a mess of displays in the process, and antagonizing a sales clerk. At the same time, “bargain seekers” steal countless items, while detectives fail to stop them; essentially, the store is in a state of havoc.

Once again, Chaplin’s character isn’t notably sympathetic; he’s actually a crook who stumbles into a plot with even greater villains afoot. Overflowing with slapstick interactions, “The Floorwalker” hasn’t yet evolved to the pathos-infused later projects the director would be known for; but it’s nevertheless a striking jumping-off point for the series, boasting escalator shenanigans, a mirror image gimmick, and some hilariously vigorous knock-about violence, demonstrating Chaplin’s exquisite ability to be shaken like a rag doll. Plus, it introduces all of the major supporting players who would pop up in nearly every subsequent picture, including Lloyd Bacon, Albert Austin, Leo White, Frank J. Coleman, John Rand, Wesley Ruggles, and elegant love-interest Edna Purviance. (6/10)

“The Rink,” from December 4th, 1916, was the eighth entry in the series, presenting Chaplin’s prowess with skating – something that previously appeared in a music hall sketch with Karno’s London Comedians, and would be seen again most memorably in “Modern Times.” Here, Chaplin is a klutzy waiter, starting off with dippy food routines – ranging from splattered drinks to “in” and “out” doors that inevitably collide with people and platters. He feuds with a fellow server, flabbergasts customers, and generally performs his duties with total disgrace and gaucherie. To considerable contrast, however, are his rollerskating skills, which he shows off at the adjacent rink during his break, where he finds an opportunity to flirt with Edna Purviance and trip up Eric Campbell. It’s not the funniest of the lot, but it’s certainly one of the more iconic, fusing exceptional slapstick with physical adroitness and a clever finale. (7/10).

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10