(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)
Work is the kind of farce Chaplin seems to have been aiming for in By the Sea, but here it’s smartly stretched to two reels. It’s superb.
Charlie is a put-upon paperhanger’s helper, a fact pointedly emphasized by his having to drag a workcart containing the day’s supplies and his boss (Charles Inslee) through the city streets and up a hill. Their day’s work is at a mansion run by a snobby couple (Billy Armstrong and Marta Golden). In a beautifully pointed gag, Marta takes one look at the woebegone paperhangers and quickly locks up her good silver in a safe. The duo quickly figure out what she’s getting at and return the favor, storing their good pocket watches in Charlie’s pocket for safe-keeping.
From here, you could guess that the movie would be one long slapstick slog through glue, and you’d mostly be right, but it’s well-done nonetheless. Chaplin obviously began to have an eye towards “extended” gags, because two of them pay off beautifully. One is a small nude statue which continually catches Charlie’s eye. He finally puts a small grass skirt on it and makes it dance a naughty hoochie-koochie for him. The other is a gas stove whose small explosions accelerate each time the impatient house-owner tries to light it. This ends up giving the movie a perfect “wow” ending, abetted by a subplot of the housewife’s extra-marital lover (Leo White) entering the house to make his moves at precisely the wrong time.
Like the movie’s errant stove, it seemed to take Chaplin a few Essanay shorts to catch fire again, but Work was the payoff. It’s a winner.
(If you really want your intelligence insulted, check out the public-domain print of Work at The Internet Archive, wherein an ostensibly helpful narrator thoughtfully describes each and every gag that Chaplin has had acted out quite clearly in front of us.)