Charlie Chaplin in BY THE SEA (1915) – A comedy that’s all wet

By_the_Sea_(1915_film)_poster

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

By the Sea is a slight improvement over Chaplin’s only other Essanay one-reeler, In the Park. But like its predecessor, this “short” short has too many characters for its own good.

Among them: a man (Billy Armstrong) whose fight with Charlie begins over the entanglement of their hats; a girl to flirt with (Edna Purviance); the girl’s burly husband (Bud Jamison); and of course, a couple of cops. The best scene is probably where Charlie simultaneously flirts with Edna while having to keep knocking Billy unconscious.

The final shot perfectly encapsulates the movie’s possibilities and disappointments. In a brief frieze, Charlie, briefly oblivious to reality, sits in the middle of a park bench, and all of the people he has antagonized surround him. It’s a lovely shot, full of anticipation. Then the cop-out ending: Charlie looks up and sees his enemies, and the park bench collapses. As does the movie.

A JITNEY ELOPEMENT (1915) – Charlie Chaplin’s April Fool’s joke on his fans

JitneyElopement

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

With only his fifth Essanay film, Chaplin seemed to have run out of inspiration in A Jitney Elopement. It’s a mess on all counts.

And its first “count” is the main character, Count Chlorine de Lime (Leo White), who is meeting with a man (Ernest Van Pelt) to discuss his possible marriage to the man’s daughter (Edna Purviance), if the price is right. I don’t know how common this practice truly was back in the 1910’s, but in the movies at least, it was enough to quickly turn the count-impersonation bit into silent film comedy’s most overused cliché. (We haven’t even gotten to Chaplin’s Mutual short The Count yet.)

Edna has no desire to follow her father’s orders, especially since she already has a love of her own, who is…Charlie?? Think about this a minute: Charlie, the woebegotten loner with the tramp appearance who usually has to spend two reels wooing Edna, starts off here as the man she prefers over some rich count. How’d she meet this guy, from a personals ad in the Police Gazette?

Anyway, Edna informs Charlie of the plot, causing Charlie to “impersonate” the count when he is expected at dinner. And a very unfunny dinner it is, consisting mostly of Charlie pantomiming how undercooked the food is. Eventually the real count shows up, and Charlie is forcibly shown the door.

When the count takes Edna and her father out for a drive and then walks Edna through the park, who should they encounter but Charlie again. From there, the movie finishes off with a frantic chase that’s notable only as one of Chaplin’s few auto-race climaxes, in which the count and the father chase Charlie and Edna in separate cars. This seems a nice novelty at first, until a couple of cops (Bud Jamison and Carl Stockdale) are dragged in, and it slowly dawns on you that Chaplin is aiming for nothing more than a Keystone Kops-type ending – the type of thing you’d thought his move to Essanay would transcend.

Chaplin is so low on inspiration here, he even steals his final gag from the closing of The Champion.

Charlie Chaplin in IN THE PARK (1915) – Park and recreation

InThePark

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Chaplin once famously said, “All I need to make a comedy are a park bench, a cop, and a pretty girl.” Perversely, in In the Park, to that formula Chaplin adds the pretty girl’s boyfriend (Bud Jamison, beau to Edna Purviance), a pickpocket (Billy Armstrong), and a passionate couple (Leo White and Leona Anderson).

And the movie proves that adding more characters to the formula doesn’t add more fun, it just causes a traffic jam. This looks like Chaplin’s revisiting of Mack Sennett’s “park” comedies, but at any given time, there are so many people populating the screen, it’s hard to tell what Chaplin was getting at. Even Charlie can’t make up his mind what he wants to be: one moment he’s a hero (he saves a sausage vendor from getting robbed), the next he’s a villain (he steals the sausages himself).

(The best gag comes at the beginning: A pickpocket absent-mindedly gropes Charlie in an attempt to steal from him, so Charlie figures that turnabout is fair play and gropes the pickpocket.)

Already, Chaplin’s expansion upon simple themes in his previous Essanay comedies proved that he had more on his mind that revisiting old formulas. Even at only ten minutes, In the Park seems too lengthy.

Charlie Chaplin in THE CHAMPION (1915) – Lord of the comedy ring

Champion

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Charlie is walking his bulldog after their meager lunch, when he sees a sign asking for sparring partners for a local boxer. Charlie hesitates to answer the ad, but when he sees a horseshoe on the ground, he picks it up and takes it with him as a sign of good luck. When sparring partners ahead of him get knocked out instantly, Charlie slips the horseshoe into one of his boxing gloves, whereupon he knocks out the boxer. Charlie is put into training for a bout against the champion (Bud Jamison) and impresses the trainer’s daughter (Edna Purviance at her curviest).

Strange elements abound. As a “character,” the bulldog is rather superfluous (except for the ending – more on that in a minute), and the climactic boxing match itself is based more on spot-gags than characterization; both of these are situations that Chaplin would later rectify in, respectively, A Dog’s Life and City Lights.

The really strange thing is that, as much as we want to root for Charlie, it’s “cheating” that makes him a champion, not skill or luck. We know perfectly well that the only reason he knocks out the boxer (and several innocent bystanders) is because his glove is loaded down with that horseshoe (a plot point, by the way, that is completely shrugged off in the climactic fight). And the only reason that Charlie wins the fight (and that the meandering fight finally ends) is that Charlie’s bulldog enters the ring and buries his teeth in the champion’s behind.

Nevertheless, a lot of funny stuff throughout, as when Charlie’s trainer tells him to jog and he merely does a faster version of his usual waddle. You’ll get some good laughs from the movie, as long as you leave logic behind.

Charlie Chaplin in A NIGHT OUT (1915) – Wait for it…

NightOut

Appearances aren’t what they seem to be. If you’ve never seen A Night Out, the publicity photos and such would suggest that it’s a silly movie about two roundabouts (Chaplin and Ben Turpin) having a very drunken night out on the town. And the first half or so of the movie shows them doing just that – and that’s the most tedious part of the movie. This part of the plot comes to life only when the duo’s very assertive headwaiter (Bud Jamison, looking like an early role model for Eric Campbell) forcibly ejects first Ben and then Charlie from his restaurant for their disruptive behavior.

(There’s nothing particularly funny about the way Ben and Charlie are drunk, by the way. They start out as bosom buddies, then as soon as they start to get into a little trouble, Charlie ditches Ben as quickly as he can.)

What perks things up is when Ben and Charlie head for their hotel room. Across the hall from them alights a pretty girl (all hail the movie debut of Edna Purviance). Edna quickly enters her room. Charlie kicks Ben into their room and then knocks on Edna’s door, hoping to make a little time with her. Alas, Edna is married – and her husband is the headwaiter who threw Charlie out! As soon as the headwaiter makes his appearance, Charlie knows when he’s licked – without further ado, he packs his bags and heads for another hotel, Ben be damned!

After another long strand of plot (please don’t make me cough it up here, it’s too painful) comes the other gem of this short: Charlie and Edna end up, albeit most innocently, in Charlie’s room in their pajamas, when Bud calls for his wife! The reactions and timing here are just what the doctor ordered, and they show that, little by little, Chaplin was getting at something on his own that he couldn’t have gotten in the more frenetic Keystone atmosphere. It takes a while to get to the highlights of this short, but they’re more than worth the wait.