Charlie Chaplin in A NIGHT IN THE SHOW (1915) – Double trouble

Night

For a man who abhorred drunks, Chaplin got a lot of mileage out of depicting them. In A Night in the Show, he plays two drunken theater-goers: Mr. Pest, a well-to-do man in the front row, and Mr. Rowdy, a poorer man in the balcony.

This short was based on one of Chaplin’s stage routines, “A Night in an English Music Hall,” and it’s about the two rowdies in the audience who, in their drunken state, do everything they can to muck up the on-stage acts. As with Chaplin’s dual role in his later short The Idle Class, there isn’t much in the way of technical contrivance (the “two” men never appear on-screen at the same time), so we’re left to judge the movie on the basis of their characters.

As such, there’s little reason for Chaplin to have done this as a dual role. His Mr. Pest easily provides the most laughs, either from his reactions (he’s surprisingly nonchalant about most of the snake-charmer’s act ending up in his lap) or extended routines (at first he can’t determine if his seat is in the first row or the second). By contrast, Mr. Rowdy does little more than (a) throw food at the acts he doesn’t like, or (b) do it so enthusiastically that he nearly falls out of the balcony. And Mr. Rowdy’s brilliant idea of using a nearby hose to put out a fire-breathing act ends the movie on what’s pretty much a “throwaway” gag.

Laugh-wise, the movie is a half-victory for Chaplin. But that half is awfully funny.

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