(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)
Unlike Charlie Chaplin’s short Sunnyside, at least with A Day’s Pleasure, you can see what Chaplin was aiming at comedy-wise. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite make it to the halfway point.
The concept is that Charlie, his wife (Edna Purviance), and their two sons (one of whom is a lad named Jackie Coogan) intend to go out for a day of recreation. The movie opens on the family getting into their Model T Ford, and Charlie trying to start up the car. Charlie gets it started (to the point of bouncing the family around in the vehicle), but the car stops as soon as Charlie tries to get in. This is cute the first couple of times, but not for the three minutes the movie spends on it – and Chaplin doesn’t ring much variation on the theme.
The family eventually arrives at a ship for a day cruise. Strangely, the ship – which doesn’t look much larger than the vessel in which Charlie arrived in America in The Immigrant — decides to have a dance on-board, despite the ship being as rickety as its Immigrant model. Eventually, this line of gags deteriorates down to a single idea: Everyone on board is seasick. Pretty soon, this nauseates the movie’s viewer as much as it does the passengers.
(Cast trivia: The plus-size woman with whom Charlie grapples on-deck is played by Jean “Babe” London, later known to Laurel & Hardy aficionados as Ollie’s eloping fiancee in the L&H short Our Wife .)
And Chaplin is quite bereft of imaginative gags – whenever a prop doesn’t work for him, he simply throws it overboard. Good thing Edna Purviance didn’t get in his way.
The only (faintly) amusing part is the movie’s final section, where Charlie tries to drive his family home but gets stuck in a traffic jam involving a persnickety cop and some hot tar. It presages a similar finale a decade later in Laurel & Hardy’s short Leave ‘em Laughing (though L&H’s version is a bit more logical and funnier), but at least it manages more chuckles than most of what precedes it.
Keep an eye on the Coogan kid, though; he’ll clean up in Chaplin’s next movie.