Charlie Chaplin Film by Film Thread. Pt. 2: Essanay

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by Rfreeman, Jun 25, 2016.

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  1. Rfreeman

    Rfreeman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Lawrenceville, NJ
    We move on to discuss Chaplin's second year in films: 1915 at Essanay studios (release of a couple films lingered into 1916):

    This continues from the discussion of Chaplin's work in 1914 at Keystone (Charlie Chaplin Film by Film Thread ยป)

    With the move to Essanay, Chaplin made a huge career leap, increasing his weekly salary from $150 to $1250 and got a $10,000 signing bonus, sums that were a king's ransom over a century ago. He was also designated part of the "Essanay - Chaplin Brand;" had a more leisurely production schedule (releasing 13 films in 1915 compared with 36 in 1914); and bargained for more creative freedom, though this did not entirely work out in the end.

    He lost a few things too though. He left his original Tramp costume behind and had to shop for replacement clothing (personally I don't notice the difference). More significantly, he lost his whole cast of supporting players, all of whom remained at Keystone; and many of whom had become nearly as familiar fixtures in Chaplin films as Charlie himself. He would re-hire a couple of them later in his career (Mack Swain, Chester Conklin, and I think Edgar Kennedy); but not in the year when he had just jumped from the good ship Keystone - so he had to develop working relationships with a new cast of players. He never again worked with Fatty Arbuckle or Mabel Normand.

    I will be rediscovering these films as I watch them, as I previously owned then only on the 3 DVDs put out by Image. I just acquired the Flicker Alley BluRay versions, and will be watching these for the first time as I do this write up. I understand there are significant improvements in many areas in the prints and scores used, not just enhanced resolution from being HD. I will make some comments about how the 2 versions differ here and there but am not going to attempt thorough comparison. If other folks have comments about how they differ, and particularly if there is anything preferable about the Image DVD versions compared to the new ones, I would be interested to learn from you.

    My ratings of these films will be based on the same 10 point scale as the ratings of the Keystone films and his later shorts, but should not be considered comparisons with his later features, which I will have on their own scale.

    I am no longer going to list who directed, wrote and produced the films - because it is all Chaplin from this point forward.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2016
  2. Rfreeman

    Rfreeman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Lawrenceville, NJ
    His New Job (Film #37)
    Released February 1, 1915
    Two reels 28:39 (Image DVD 30:11)
    (Film studio comedy #3)

    This film is unique as the only film Chaplin made in Chicago, where Essanay had its main studio. As with many of Chaplin's Essanay films it is in many ways an improved revision of ideas he first played with at Keystone. In the case of this film, set in a film studio, it notably develops on themes introduced in his earlier "back stage" and "behind the scenes" films: A Film Johnny, The Property Man, and The Masquerader.

    There is not a whole lot of plot here. Chaplin seeks a job at a film studio, is hired as an actor, gets demoted to carpenter's assistant, gets called up again to be an actor, and wreaks mild havoc in each of these situations before a fight and chase ensue over Charlie wearing the star's costume. The brief interlude as a carpenter's assistant is clearly inserted just to give Charlie a chance to get into trouble with a large plank he carries on his shoulder. Within under 30 seconds he manages to impact people 6 times through a combination of pushing down one end to kick up the other, swinging it around with his body, running forward into people, and dropping it on his own toe. It's a remarkable bit of editing and choreography to pack this all in like this, but with that accomplished his stint as carpenter's assistant is done and he gets called back up to act.

    Throughout much of this film he is paired in a competitive antagonistic manner with Ben Turpin; a somewhat older comedian, who dresses in a similar Tramp get up but with a somewhat lighter color scheme (I think Spy vs Spy when I first see them together). This most resembles the pairing between Chaplin and Conklin, as they are again similar physical types. But I think it works better with Turpin. They wound up not working together all that often in the end as there was off screen friction between them (Turpin may have been trying for more laughs than Chaplin wanted him to get), but they are off to a promising start here. In this film, Turpin is vying to be a similar hire initially but gets beat out by Chaplin, then gets hired as Carpenter's assistant when Charlie is promoted back to actor. A couple of my favorite moments between them include Chaplin stealing a Cigarette from Turpin's mouth with his own mouth and lighting a match on him (he does this a couple times); and the pair vying to be first into the casting director's door - including leapfrogging, leg pulling and even leg biting.

    There is a lot of nice physical comedy in this film, including scenes with Chaplin popping his hat to remove it for a lady; another run in with a swinging door; turning the casting director's head with his hand and blowing into his hearing assisting device; repeatedly walking on a barely conscious Turpin; hooking things (and Turpin's neck) with his cane. There's a real nice bit when Charlie s flirting with the leading lady and appears to twist his own ear to make smoke come out of his mouth (this seems to foreshadow Harpo). I also enjoy the craps game he plays with the carpenter, in which he pantomimes praying and engages in elaborate rituals trying to get the dice to come out his way, while the Carpenter seems to cheat him by picking his dice up to fast to verify the rolls. There is a stabbing through curtain exchange where he sets up Turpin to get the blame (reminiscent of Those Love Pangs). I also enjoy in costume Charlie trying to look suave leaning on a column smoking a cigarette, until both topple.

    There are also a few minor flaws. There is inconsistency as to the title of the film studio - is it Lodestone or Lockstone? The door sign and intertitle disagree. Either way it is obviously a parody of his old job at Keystone as he starts his "new job" here. I also can't figure out why the director within the film, after sending Chaplin back to get a script, gets mad when he brings the script and demotes him to work with the carpenter. Perhaps he brought back something other that a script? I can't tell. But it doesn't really matter, cause it makes for that great scene with the board. And, as noted, the plot is just a stringing together of scenes.

    In the end this film reminds me more of Caught in the Rain than of any of the other Keystones. Like that film, it is not trying to break any new ground, but it presents a lot of Chaplin's "greatest hits" in a more packed in and better choreographed manner than we had typically seen them before. It also shows he has grown into the ability to make to reelers. Even without much of an integrating plot line, there is enough of a flow here to keep the viewer almost continuously drawn in. And two reelers are now the rule rather than the exception for Chaplin.

    I am not sure why the new BR version clocks in 5% (1:32) shorter than the older DVD version. It is hard to imagine they lost footage in the last 20 years, so perhaps they sped up all or part of the film? They certainly improved the picture quality (really this is the best print quality we have seen apart from a small part of the otherwise poor quality Recreation) and the new orchestral score (with some synced to action elements) is a nice step up from the often tiresome piano accompaniment on the Image DVD. I also rank the content of this film up with his best Keystones and above any of his earlier two reelers.

    Rating:
    Content 8.5/10
    Print 6/10
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2016
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  3. Rfreeman

    Rfreeman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Lawrenceville, NJ
    . . . Crickets . . .
    Guess there was more interest in the Keystones.
     
  4. Sarah S. The Hendrix Nut

    Sarah S. The Hendrix Nut Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Indiana
    I'm a big Chaplin fan. But the Essanays just never worked for me. I bought the restored versions when they came out, and there is improvement the presentation.
    I just can't get into them.
    I like Ben Turpin a lot as well, so it's great to see them together.
    That doesn't mean I think you should stop the thread. I will go through the films as I read your reviews and maybe I will change my mind on a few.
     
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  5. Sarah S. The Hendrix Nut

    Sarah S. The Hendrix Nut Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Indiana
    One thing I don't think you mentioned (did I miss it?) Gloria Swanson appears in His New Job.
     
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  6. Rfreeman

    Rfreeman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Lawrenceville, NJ
    Not going to quit. Just bought the BRs so I will watch and write up at least for my own benefit.

    When you say you don't care for the Essanay is that in comparison to his later work or to the Keystones as well?
     
  7. Rfreeman

    Rfreeman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Lawrenceville, NJ
    Good catch, I did not. I am not entirely sure what role she played.
     
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  8. Sarah S. The Hendrix Nut

    Sarah S. The Hendrix Nut Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Indiana
    Charlie is my favorite actor, silent or otherwise. I became a silent movie fan because of him and I have a rather large collection of silent films, from comedy to drama to horror.

    But the Essanays, with a few exceptions don't hold up for me. Not in comparison to Chaplin's other work, or with other comedians of the time.
    Some are terrific, The Tramp is probably my favorite from Essanay. It just seems to be a down point creatively for Charlie.
    I watch these films so rarely, I need to look up the film titles just to be sure which ones belong here.

    I just got out the booklet from the Flicker Alley set and the ones I like the best are:
    The Tramp
    By The Sea
    and
    A Night In The Show

    I will follow along and maybe change my mind!:)
    Here she is in the background:
     
  9. Rfreeman

    Rfreeman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Lawrenceville, NJ
    Thanks. I had read she was playing a secretary but honestly never noticed here there as my eyes were always drawn to the characters in the foreground.
     
  10. Sarah S. The Hendrix Nut

    Sarah S. The Hendrix Nut Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Indiana
    That's quite understandable!
     
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  11. JamieC

    JamieC Senior Member

    Location:
    Detroit Mi USA
    I am still here. My problem is my Brentwood set is mostly toast. Discs 3 and 4 have somehow been damaged with chunks out out of the center hole. I will keep the bonus disc though. Just ordered the Mutual set you have mentioned. This thread will help me decide if I want to pull the trigger on the Essanay set or not.
     
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  12. Matt Richardson

    Matt Richardson Forum Resident

    Location:
    Suburban Chicago
    If any of you Chaplin fans ever find yourselves visiting Chicago, it might be worth your time to visit the site of that old Essanay studio on Argyle street ( far north-east side). The building still stands and still shows the old "Essanay" logo above the front door.
     
  13. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower

    Location:
    Out of My Element
    I've been travelling and just made it back today to start teaching a summer course. A bit swamped at the moment, but I'll catch up shortly with "His New Job".
     
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  14. AppleCorp3

    AppleCorp3 Forum Resident

    Don't lose heart - Im going to start watching - I didn't realize you'd gotten your discs yet.

    I was on a Gloria Swanson kick for a while - ironically!!! - and got side tracked. I'll be watching this one soon.
     
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  15. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower

    Location:
    Out of My Element
    I find this to be an uneven film - perhaps a case where a two-reeler wasn't quite in order based on the material at hand (not that he had a choice at this point). We have instances where the Chaplin character (difficult to call him a "tramp" in this case) is engaging, and has a string of little mannerisms that put the audience on his side. But these are offset by the sometimes over the top violence (such as the saw across Ben Turpin's pants, or the at least the piece of wood in his pants). And some bits (the dice game in particular) seem crowbarred into the film.

    I think the director gets made when Charlie returns with his "script" because he ruins the second attempt at the scene that he already ruined before. Not that the director even looks at the script, but I think it may be the "Hamlet" script left in the office by the long-haired actor.

    I found it interesting that I spotted Leo White in two seconds as the military officer when he had his facial hair and eye makeup in place, but never realized (until a trip to imdb) that this is also Leo playing the studio president's secretary, without his usual makeup.
     
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  16. Doug Sulpy

    Doug Sulpy Forum Resident

    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Like Sarah, I have to say the Essanays do little for me. Some of the later ones are okay, but I think there was a huge drop in production quality, supporting cast and general sense of fun compared to the Keystones.

    Years ago I bought a photograph of some people posing outside a theater in Texas, from March, 1915. Outside the theater is a poster for "His New Job," which is notable because (to my knowledge) Charlie wasn't named on Keystone's posters, as far as I know.


    [​IMG]
     
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  17. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower

    Location:
    Out of My Element
    You wouldn't spend all that money to get him under contract and not publicize him, right?
     
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  18. Doug Sulpy

    Doug Sulpy Forum Resident

    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    You can't tell from the blow-up above, of course, but that poster has to be seven feet tall. Can you imagine how much money that thing would be worth if it existed today!?
     
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  19. AppleCorp3

    AppleCorp3 Forum Resident

    I remember an episode of American Pickers where they went to an old theatre and found a ton of those old huge paper posters. They didn't have time to go through them all but some were quite old.

    You have to wonder what is just laying around in some dusty crawl space in these old movie houses in the Midwest.
     
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  20. Rfreeman

    Rfreeman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Lawrenceville, NJ
    A Night Out (Film #38) & Charlie Butts In (Film #38a)
    Released February 15, 1915 (Charlie Butts In 1920)
    Two reels 27:09 (Image DVD 34:02; Charlie Butts In 10:20)
    (Hotel comedy #4)

    With this film, Chaplin moved production to Essanay's studio in Niles, CA. This film is an elaboration and amalgamation of several of Chaplin's Keystones: The Rounders (the first large chunk of the film teams Chaplin and Turpin as drunk buddies), Caught in the Rain (a hotel sequence in which he gets in pajamas and goes out a window) and Mabel's Strange Predicament (another dog chase leads Mabel into a stranger's room). And you can basically tell the Keystone actor/characters the new actors are playing. Turpin is Conklin, but in the Arbuckle role - and does a very nice job. New discovery Edna Purviance, who remains Chaplin's go to leading lady for the next 8 years, is at this point visibly less confident than Mabel was and is given fairly little chance to interact with Charlie. Bud Jamison seems like a stiffer and less comedic version of Mack Swain, cast as Edna's husband.

    This film is available for viewing in at least 3 significantly different versions. The most complete is the DVD version issued by Image in the 90s, which attempted to compile all existing footage, and in doing so jumped around a lot quality wise and contained some fairly redundant segments. The more recent release by Flicker Alley runs about 7 minutes (20% shorter) than the older version, apparently due to the insights that:

    (a) some of the footage that had been edited into the earlier version were actually alternate takes and/or outtakes not intended to be part of A Night Out. The Flicker Alley version is re-edited with the goal of recreating A Night Out as it was originally released.

    (b) the alternate takes had been first seen by the public in Charlie Butts In, effectively a one reel alternate version of A Night Out which was stitched together by Essanay to release in 1920, several years after Chaplin has left the company. Butts In also contains a unique opening sequence of Charlie conducting a band.

    So in the Flicker Alley version, you have to watch Charlie Butts In in addition to A Night Out in order to see all the footage. The changes are most noticeable in two sequences, which are two of my favorite sequences in the film:

    (a) Charlie washing himself in the hotel fountain and using a large leaf as a toothbrush. I feel this works better in the briefer FA version more as some of the editing in of alternate takes is choppy and redundant in the Image version. Though FA does miss showing him attempt to clean his armpits through his shirt.

    (b) Charlie changing into his underclothes for bed in the hotel room. Here the FA version is disappointing as it omits a nice bit where Charlie drapes his clothes and hat on top of something and then mistakes that for a person and starts interacting with it.

    Overall it's a well done effort constructing a two reel film by welding together remakes of a couple one reel Keystone tropes. We don't yet have a character or plot we care about, but it's fun to watch. The drunk act with Turpin that occupies most of the first half of the film is great fun an expanded version of the Rounders with another talented comedian. Unfortunately his relationship with Turpin never got a chance to develop much more beyond this film. But his relationship with Edna was to blossom nicely on screen and off, and with that relationship Chaplin would move away from the knockabout approach to Comedy exemplified by pairings with folks like Turpin.


    Rating:
    Content 8/10
    Print: 6/10 (FA); 5/10 (Image); 3/10 (Butts In)
     
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  21. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower

    Location:
    Out of My Element
    I am in D.C. for the holiday but will chime in on this film when I get home.
     
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  22. AppleCorp3

    AppleCorp3 Forum Resident

    I think as Chaplin started to assemble his gang, his pictures got better. The gags seemed tighter, the "business" more clever and more built up, and overall the ensemble is more cohesive.

    Adding Albert Austin and Henry Bergman to the mix was huge, but would have to wait.

    A big plus was getting Edna. Her arrival on the scene started to mellow out the tramp from the rough vagrant of the Keystone films.
     
  23. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower

    Location:
    Out of My Element
    I have the 1999 Image DVD and have not seen the Flicker Alley version or "Charlie Butts In".

    This film has a number of funny, if not hilarious bits. While it's not surprising that Chaplin mines earlier films for ideas, it is surprising how closely he recreates aspects of "Mabel's Strange Predicament". At 34 minutes it certainly does "feel" over long. Happy to report I quickly spotted Leo White's dual role this time around. The amount of abuse Leo takes in the restaurant (including having Charlie spit into his hat) makes you wonder why he simply didn't leave. :) I find a lot of humor in Ben Turpin stepping up to be the proxy for the physical retaliation that should be coming Charlie's way (while Charlie sits there rather disinterestedly). Overall, at this point, it seems like Charlie has not quite figured out how to make a 2 reeler that really holds together without being an amalgamation of episodic bits.
     
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  24. Rfreeman

    Rfreeman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Lawrenceville, NJ
    The issue of Chaplin constructing longer films by visibly stich in together vignettes with a loose plot is a problem throughout Chaplin's career, and is clearly visible as late as Modern Times and City Lights. Actually one of the reasons watching the early Chaplin films is particularly interesting is it lets us trace the developments of bits thst wind up in his later masterpieces. You don't get to the biding in City Lights without The Knockout and The Champion, or to the drunken buddy act there without The Rounders and A Night Out.

    An overly episodic nature is an issue with a lot of comedy features beyond Chaplin as well, such as that works of the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, Martin & Lewis, Monty Python, Mel Brooks, Richard Lester, Richard Pryor, and at least the pre Annie Hall and occasional later works of Woody Allen.

    Chaplin surmounts this issue to the greatest extent in perhaps my two favorite films of his The Kid and Monsieur Verdoux - but let's discuss those later.

    I would say the comedians who have most managed to create satisfyingly integrated films, along with some of Woody's later works, are Bill Murray and Harold Ramis. A particular tour de force in this regard is Groundhog Day, probably my favorite "talkie."
     
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  25. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower

    Location:
    Out of My Element
    He managed it in "The New Janitor" at Keystone. Adding even a vaguely "dramatic" plot line to hang the jokes on at least gives the films a beginning and ending that are related to each other. "A Night Out" doesn't really even end, as much as it stops.
     
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