Charlie Chaplin in HIS TRYSTING PLACE (1914) – Bad-sitcom-level misunderstanding

HisTrystingPlace

Two married men (Chaplin and Mack Swain) are returning home separately from a walk. In his coat, Charlie has a fresh bottle of milk for his newborn baby. In his Mack has a romantic letter that he had promised (but forgot) to send for his secretary. By happenstance, both men stop to dine at the same restaurant. Will the gods smile upon these men and let them retrieve their own coats before they leave? Not for a two-reeler, they won’t.

This kind of situation might have been fresh in its day, but it has been worn to the nub by decades of unimaginative sitcoms with similar premises – not to mention the fact that it has what Roger Ebert, decades later, dubbed the “Idiot Plot” – the kind of story that could be finished in two minutes if the characters didn’t behave like idiots. Instead, we must sit through Mabel Normand (as Mrs. Charlie) berating and beating her husband for five minutes before she deigns to tell him why she’s torturing him; and the painful restaurant scene where Charlie and Mack first meet up, but not before competing in the Worst Table Manners of All Time Contest.

The movie’s best moments are the quietest ones, such as when Charlie, Mabel, and Mack, in mid-fight, see a cop and suddenly go all civil for a minute, until the cop is out of sight and they resume their battle. Otherwise, this is the sort of situation best left to “The Honeymooners.”

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