Charlie Chaplin in THE FLOORWALKER (1916) – Riding the escalator to Comedy Heaven


The Floorwalker spills over with the confidence Chaplin had obviously gained from becoming his own producer via his Mutual contract. Here, he provides himself an elaborate department-store setting and makes the most of every opportunity with a gag or prop, rather as Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks would do decades later with The Terminal.

As with his Essanay shorts Work and Police, Chaplin finds interesting chances to make a little social commentary. Charlie makes his entrance innocently knocking over a few items in the store, and it’s quite ironic that a shop assistant (Albert Austin) lingers on harassing Charlie for being a potential thief, while just a few feet away, people are robbing the store blind.

Oh, and up on the second floor as well. The contents of the store’s safe are about to stolen by the assistant manager (Lloyd Bacon) and the manager (the film debut of Chaplin’s wonderfully florid villain Eric Campbell – you know, the guy Bud Jamison kept trying to be in the Essanay films). But the assistant knocks the manager out and tries to abscond the funds for himself. He happens upon Charlie, who turns out to be a dead ringer for him, and they do a wonderful minute or so of the “mirror” routine (made most famous by the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, but done in countless other films as well).

The assistant gets the bright idea of he and Charlie “trading” identities, thinking that he (the assistant) can get out of the store with the stolen money if he’s disguised as a customer. Little does he know that this customer has everyone on his tail already (and the manager will soon follow, once he comes to).

Too many great gags and set-pieces to mention, including cinema’s first use of an escalator (prompting Mack Sennett to turn green with envy that he hadn’t thought of it first). The Floorwalker shows Chaplin fully flexing his comedy muscles and enjoying every minute of it.

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


(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


(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.

TRIPLE TROUBLE (1918) – A fake Charlie Chaplin film starring Charlie Chaplin


Triple Trouble is a hodgepodge that Essanay threw together long after Chaplin had departed from them. It’s made up of footage from the Chaplin/Essanay shorts Police and Work, plus some material for Life, a planned Essanay feature film that Chaplin never got off the ground.

All of this is “connected” with new footage directed by and starring Leo White as a count who tries to buy the rights to a new wireless explosive from its creator, Col. Nutt. Needless to say, the “new” story is relevant to nothing.

The most interesting activities involved in watching Triple Trouble are:

* Watching the editing carefully. At one point, Charlie throws some trash over a fence in 1915, only to throw it over Leo White’s head in 1918.

* Trying to puzzle out what Life would have been like. The extant footage here shows Charlie bedding down for the night in a seedier-than-usual flophouse. The upside is seeing a couple of “throwaway” gags that Chaplin would embellish and improve a few years later in The Gold Rush.

The downside is watching Chaplin’s early attempt at social commentary. At one point, an obviously mentally ill flophouse visitor is rambling on in the middle of the night, much to the detriment of those around him who are trying to sleep. Chaplin’s idea of a rich gag is to make up the man’s bed, conk him on the head with a bottle, and then tuck him in and kiss him goodnight. It’s the kind of cheap gag that Chaplin would later eschew for more thoughtful characterization.