Charlie Chaplin in BEHIND THE SCREEN (1916) – Girls will be boys, boys will be mincing


Like its predecessor The Pawnshop, Behind the Screen is hysterical almost in spite of its plot. The ostensible story is that a wanna-be actress (Edna Purviance) finds that the only way she can get onto a movie set is to dress up as a prop boy, which gets her/him a job when most of the prop men go on strike. But when Chaplin uses the flimsiest excuses on God’s green Earth to work in an epic pie fight and to get Eric Campbell to mince around like a gay stereotype, you know he’s not much interested in plot.

Just the same, there are some priceless moments all throughout. Some of the running gags are superb: There’s one such gag with a trap door that plays like a cartoon. The laws of gravity have nothing to do with this door; it opens, and people don’t fall below, they disappear. My favorite running gag, though, is another of Chaplin’s priceless character observations, wherein Charlie is bustling back and forth across the set and keeps tripping over the same movie camera. It proves what I’ve always believed: Given the vast amounts of space in which they could move around, people will always take the path that gets in others’ way the most.

Post-Keystone, Chaplin didn’t abandon the plots of his movies very often. I guess dressing up Edna Purviance in boys’ clothes must have gotten him a little rattled.