Genre: Romantic Comedy and Slapstick Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.
Release Date: April 1st, 1941 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 1916 and October 1917, Charles Chaplin produced many of his finest short comedies as a series for the Mutual Film Corporation. In 1941, “The Charlie Chaplin Festival” collected together four of those productions for theatrical rerelease, as the auteur would do with many of his other short subjects later throughout his career, providing an opportunity for new audiences to experience some of his most iconic works, here featuring minor technical updates to the picture and sound. The individual selections don’t have anything specific to tie them to one another, though the evolution of his filmmaking is evident when watching them back-to-back.
“The Immigrant” was the eleventh film in the Mutual series, first released on June 17th, 1917. It begins with Chaplin’s signature tramp seemingly hurling over the side of a ship, but he is instead reeling up a fish. As the vessel rocks to and fro, the vagabond performs his classic physical routines, including teetering on one foot and engaging in various sequences of slapstick, rolling across the floor with the motion of the waves, and contending with a dinner dish that slides from one section of the table to the other, alternating spoonfuls of food with a burly passenger.
Of course, a significant portion of the plot involves a beautiful young woman (Edna Purviance) also aboard, whom the tramp must aid as she contends with robbery and a sickly mother. Aside from the romance – an essential component in these short subjects – Chaplin’s hapless character bides his time with gambling, fending off a rowdy bully, taking in the sights of the Statue of Liberty as his boatload of immigrants docks in New York, and enjoying a hearty feast of beans – initially munching on them one at a time. Pennilessness is still one of the biggest hurdles to overcome, as paying a dinner tab becomes a battle of wits against Chaplin’s recognizable “Goliath” (Eric Campbell), yet the payoff at the conclusion – as well as the resolution with his love interest – is one of the least impressive of the Mutuals. (3/10)
“The Adventurer,” released on October 17th, 1917, was the last of the Mutual comedies, ending up as one of the most popular of the bunch, further catapulting Chaplin to financial and artistic freedom. Here, a group of lawmen hunt for an escaped convict, giving Charlie the chance to don a completely different costume than before. Now in vivid black-and-white stripes, the man on the run must fool a number of policemen as they conduct chases up and down the cliffs surrounding a beach. He may not be a tramp (donning the moniker “Commodore Slick”), but his unforgettable gait remains the same, as do a few routines, involving water rescues; the appearance of a thickly-eyebrowed, massively-double-goateed Eric Campbell; and wooing Edna Purviance. Similarly, Chaplin embraces the themes of false identities and a love triangle, allowing for numerous skits of ungentlemanly rivalry, some of which would lend to Laurel and Hardy shenanigans. And perhaps most amusing of all are food mishaps and highly enjoyable slapstick gimmicks involving sliding doors, a convenient balcony, and a staircase for running up and down and over. As with the previous Mutual short, however, “The Adventurer” ends with little resolution, remaining as a funny concept with little sense of complete storytelling. (5/10)
“The Cure” opened on April 16th, 1917, as the tenth of Charlie’s twelve Mutual comedies, spoofing the rather serious problem of drunkenness, mitigated by Chaplin donning a slightly different persona – one of wealth. Similarly, gout was considered a rich man’s disease, here affecting regular heavy Eric Campbell. At an upscale spa, a revolving door provides a lengthy moment of hilarity, followed by a water cup bit, a trunk full of booze, a heavy-handed massage (easily the funniest skit), a light swim, and the accidental yet frequent tormenting of the gout-footed giant. Curiously, alongside “The Adventurer,” Chaplin’s persona isn’t sympathetic; instead, he’s something of the antagonist, behaving badly and corrupting the entire institution. Fortunately, however, it has a rather satisfying ending. (6/10)
“Easy Street,” released on October 2nd, 1916, is the ninth and most famous of the Chaplin Mutuals, highlighting the poverty and urban violence of the London slums that Charlie had known during his own childhood. His classic tramp (or derelict) appears at the doorstep of a mission, where he proceeds to disrupt a sermon and speak with a beautiful young pianist, before returning to the continual riot of Easy Street, where bloodied citizens and cops alike swarm through the police station. “Your beat is Easy Street,” says the captain as the tramp dons a badge and picks up a baton to help contain the mayhem. And it certainly won’t be a simple patrol when the monstrous Eric Campbell opts to wander the area, looking for trouble. A scene with a dummy being tossed about in the copshop is quite amusing, alongside a duel in a claustrophobic apartment that mirrors the boxing bout from “City Lights,” but in general, this short is a touch too serious and uncharacteristically dark to be one of the more hilarious of the collection. It even boasts a drug-filled syringe that juices up the tramp to the point that he can fight off the hordes of mobsters. But it nevertheless has a fantastic finale. (6/10)
– Mike Massie