Charlie Chaplin in HIS MUSICAL CAREER (1914) – Never hits the high notes


(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Piano movers Mack Swain and Charlie are supposed to pick up a delinquently-paid piano from one home and deliver a brand-new piano to another home. One of the pianos is located at 666 Prospect Street, the other at 999 Prospect Street. Can you guess where this is going?

At least one Chaplin biographer has compared this movie to the later, Oscar-winning short from Laurel and Hardy, The Music Box (1932). Both films are about piano-moving, and both happen to involve hills and great flights of stairs in their destinations. But the similarities end there. For one thing, Laurel & Hardy’s child-adultness – their “likable dumbness,” as described by one of their biographers – is a grace note of characterization, compared to the way Charlie and Mack slap themselves and others around here. Stan and Ollie do get somewhat combative in their movie, but only when provoked. And they come off as geniuses compared to Mack and Charlie (who never notice that there’s already a piano in the home where they’re placing a second one).

The movie ends with the wrong piano sliding down a hill and into a pond. Such an excess in itself probably provided a huge laugh finale in 1914. Nowadays it, like the movie itself, just looks like a wasted opportunity.