Pay Day is Chaplin’s truly worthy finale to the genre that first brought him fame, the short subject. Although he obviously had bigger things on his mind at this point than simply “riffing” on a series of gags a la Mack Sennett, Chaplin nevertheless proved he still had it in him to do so.
The movie is mostly a series of vignettes on a day in the life of construction worker Charlie. The movie is basically divided into thirds: his day on the job, confounding his boss (Mack Swain) and his co-workers; drinking his troubles away in the evening; and trying to avoid his sleeping wife once he gets home at 5 a.m.
Edna Purviance makes a token appearance her as the boss’ daughter, but seen in retrospect, Chaplin already saw the writing on the wall as far as Purviance getting too old for this sort of role, as she is used most minimally here. Sadly, the major female presence is Phyllis Allen as Charlie’s harridan wife. Even in his time, Chaplin’s critics complained about how idealized his movie women usually were, but they were certainly preferable to this battle-ax stereotype (whose big, screaming mouth and hair-in-curls hideously fills the movie’s final shot).
As always, the best gags involve transposition. When Charlie and his drunken friends hold an outside serenade, and a woman two floors above dumps water on them, Charlie naturally assumes it’s a downfall and opens up his umbrella. Continually trying and failing to catch nearby streetcars, Charlie happens upon an open lunch wagon and, in his drunken state, hopefully boards it for a ride home.
Pay Day isn’t Chaplin’s greatest comedy by any means, but compared to the two opening shorts he did for First National (Sunnyside and A Day’s Pleasure), it comes as a welcome relief for his finale in the short-subject arena.