(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)
The Adventurer is bittersweet in more ways than one. It begins with Charlie as the ultimate loner (an escaped convict) and comes full circle to that point by movie’s end. Also, it’s funny enough, hardly Chaplin’s worst short. And yet, considering some of the inspired flights of fancy that preceded it, it seems a sort of shoulder-shrugging way for Chaplin to have ended his fruitful Mutual period.
The movie begins with Charlie on the run from a full coterie of cops, on the edge of a beach. (The outdoor scenery, by the way, is lovingly photographed by Rollie Totheroh. Compare the lovely natural settings of movies such as this one and The Pilgrim to Chaplin’s later studio-bound movies, whose “cheap look” is a sore spot among Chaplin’s critics.) This opening section is a bit protracted, since we have a pretty good idea that Charlie will escape anyway.
Charlie swims for it and makes a getaway, eventually arriving at a pier where an egotistic man (Eric Campbell) is flexing his muscles for the benefit of his date (Edna Purviance). Suddenly they hear screams, and they see that a woman is drowning. The logic that follows is a little hazy. Eric takes off his coat as though he’s going to dive in, but then he doesn’t do so; apparently, he can’t swim. Edna, evidently in reaction to Eric’s cowardice, dives in herself, even though she does nothing to help the drowning woman. Charlie happens upon the scene and starts to rescue the drowner. But, in one of Chaplin’s rare gags of genuine cruelty (arse-kicking aside), he sees Edna in the water and decides to dump the drowner and rescue pretty Edna instead.
Eventually, Charlie saves both women as well as Eric (twice – Charlie accidentally knocks him into the drink again), but Eric realizes that Charlie is trying to horn in on Edna, and he will have nothing to do with Charlie.
Both men are taken back to Edna’s home to recuperate. Charlie takes easily to his new, plush surroundings, dressing nattily and mixing drinks for himself every chance he gets. Meanwhile, via a newspaper article, Eric discovers Charlie’s true identity and calls the police. The movie ends with one of Chaplin’s funniest chase scenes, as he ducks and scrambles from myriad cops and Eric.
After the zippy chase scene, the movie disappoints with its ending, with Charlie escaping via what amounts to a throwaway gag, as if Chaplin just wanted to wrap up this movie and finish off his contract – which might well have been the case.
(Actors’ Trivia: The chauffeur in the early part of the movie was played by Chaplin’s real-life chauffeur, Toraichi Kono. Also, the film marks the final movie appearance of Eric Campbell; two months after the film’s release, Campbell died in a car accident exacerbated by his drunken driving.)