As Chaplin’s first short for Essanay Studios, His New Job can’t help seeming self-referential in several ways: first, with the film’s self-deprecating title; and second, with the plotline that has Charlie applying for a job at Lockstone Studios (an obvious kick-in-the-pants to his former employer).
Otherwise, the storyline won’t seem unfamiliar to anyone who saw Chaplin’s Keystone shorts A Film Johnnie and The Masquerader: The movie offers a supposed behind-the-scenes look at the making of a Chaplin movie, while Charlie-the-character wreaks havoc within the studio. And yet, just within the movie’s first few minutes, the familiar scenario seems more relaxed in Chaplin’s hands.
To be sure, there is plenty of slapstick violence, but somehow it seems more motivated than it was at Keystone. When Ben Turpin enters the scene as Charlie’s job rival, he’s just as malicious as Charlie and therefore deserves a lot of the harsh treatment he gets. (By the way, the byplay between Chaplin and Turpin throughout the film is hilarious, capped by a superb closing shot in which a semi-conscious Turpin tries to get up and strike Charlie but flounders like a fish.) When Charlie walks through the filming of a movie and mucks it up, it’s funny, but he does it by accident, innocently, rather than nastily gumming things up just because he can.
There are superb scenes and sight gags throughout, and sometimes Chaplin gets laughs strictly from non sequitors; when Charlie is made to dress up in a soldier’s uniform to act in a scene, he completes the dressing-up and then, just to top off the masquerade, salutes to nobody; when he’s finished his role and doesn’t even realize how much he has messed things up, he continues to ham it up to his own satisfaction. His New Job is a very satisfying start to…his new job.
Trivia: Gloria Swanson, in one of her earliest film roles, can be seen as the stenographer at Chaplin’s left at the beginning of the movie.