Once Chaplin found his way around a movie camera, he usually had at least some semblance of a plot in each of his movies and stuck to it. Strangely enough, there are two times in Chaplin’s Mutual canon where the plot is really just a thin excuse for the gags. One is Behind the Screen; the other is The Pawnshop.
The movie’s supposed plot is that a villain (Eric Campbell, natch) enters a pawnshop with a front of wanting to purchase some jewelry but actually wanting to rob the store. Some plot – Campbell doesn’t make his first entrance until more than halfway through the movie, and then he occupies only about five minutes of it.
The rest of the movie is an excuse to see how many superb gags Chaplin can get out of his setting. (Answer: 100%.) The first five minutes is mostly an excuse for Charlie to duke it out with a co-worker (John Rand). Rand’s only response is unrepentant arse-kicking, and so he gets everything he deserves.
There are many other reasons to celebrate the movie, among them Charlie trying to manfully to lift, much less eat, the pastries baked by the shop-owner’s daughter (Edna Purviance). (And that shop owner? Say hello to Henry Bergman in the first appearance of his long association with Chaplin.) Then, of course, there is the famous scene where an unsuspecting customer (Albert Austin) brings in his clock to be pawned and instead has a hysterectomy performed upon it by Charlie.
Oh, and that would-be robber? Superb closing gag – wait for it. Everyone gets his clock cleaned here sooner or later.