Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by Rfreeman, Feb 21, 2017.
Three year in bump
Is there a complete dvd / Blu ray box ?
There are sets covering Keystone, Essanay, and the Mutuals. After that you deal with the Chaplin estate releases.
If you're in the US and have a region free player, I would advise the BFI set for the Mutuals (currently $12 on Amazon). There you get the Carl Davis scores for each short and no audience noises/clapping as in the Flicker Alley set.
Alright - thinking I am gonna jump back in and watch me some Chaplin on this snow day
Maybe you should start with this...
The Cure (film #62)
Two reels 26:26
Released April 16, 1917
This film held me up for a good while as I find it hard to say a whole lot about it as it really does not work very well for me. It held Chaplin up as well - he spent quite a bit of time on this film, even changing characters from the original conception (he first shot scenes where he was the bellhop before becoming a patient) - with the result that the three month gap between this and its predecessor was his longest to date that did not involve switching studios.
Not much plot or character development here. He smuggles a trunk of liquor into a "kick alcohol" spa and reacts to the "waters" that are supposed to make alcoholics reform as if they are poison (with booze as the antidote). The "we've got a Mutual budget!" expensive prop du jour is a revolving door and the recurring comic theme is Eric Campbell's injured foot getting stuck in that and/or Charlie inflicting pain on it in other ways.
A sweet but not funny bit has Edna coming to Charlie's defense when hotel staff tries to oust him after a tussle with Eric (who was hitting on Edna in an unwelcome manner).
My fav sequences are in the changing / pool /massage / sauna rooms. Charlie shows off his ballet moves in a changing room - but more cute than funny. He pretends to swim in an inventive way, and I enjoy his attempts to evade a punishing looking masseur by transforming the massage into a wrestling match and sliding around the table. Could have made a nice half reel short from these sequences.
Biggest plot point of the film has everyone in the film except Charlie getting drunk - as Charlie's smuggled in booze was inadvertently disposed of in the healing waters. Charlie saves Edna from the ensuing lechery and she convinces him to try the waters again - which he likes quite a bit now that they are spiked with his stash.
For the finale everyone is hung over, Edna convinces Charlie to go straight, and he winds up tripping into the spiked well.
So it does have some fun moments, but it really does not hang together all that well. I consider it the weakest of his Mutual films and worse than most of his Essanays as well (all but Shanghaied).
I am a bit of an outlier in this regard as it was quite popular at the time and most modern reviewers are kind to it as well. But I prefer his Tramp character to his drunk character by a wide margin and find this lacks the inventive physical comedy that spiced up his drunk outing the prior year in 1 AM.
This is disturbing!
I’m inclined to agree with you on this one. There are some funny bits of business here, but overall it doesn’t feel cohesive. From examining the making of the film (in Unknown Chaplin) I got the sense that he tried too hard to make it work and that’s what is is...
Sort of like The Beatles though, even a weak or workman like effort is still enjoyable and has bits of brilliance.
The Immigrant (film #63)
Two reels 25:11
Released June 17, 1917
Really fabulous film. My fav two reeler. Takes off where The Vagabond left off and leaves us primed for City Lights.
Opens like a major film, with the shots of the ship, then the passengers, and Charlie making a big entrance - with his readily identifiable feet and legs greeting us before his grinning face.
Lots of great extended physical comedy sequences - some of which foreshadow future work. His balancing act on a tilting ship deck (and sliding food on tables) is a step towards his skating in Modern Times and the tilting house in The Gold Rush. And he keeps the physical comedy from being wearying (as well as merging the best moments of these sequences from different takes seamlessly) by fluidly cutting away to shots that advance the story of Edna and her mom.
The chemistry between Charlie and Edna suggested in The Vagabond and Easy Street really flourishes here. There is a magic glow in all their shots together, evident from their first laying eyes on one another in the mess hall, Really one of the all time great screen couples, all the more so for doing it all purely with gestures.
A clever physical sequence shows Charlie expertly cheating first at dice (elaborate wind ups distracting from him placing dice on table) then cards (with fake shuffles and cutting of cards), yet he remains sympathetic throughout- first because of the obnoxious character playing against him, and then because he uses his winnings to gift Edna money (which his opponent had stolen from her to use against Charlie) - shades of City Lights.
The ship sequence ends with the film's most famous moment - juxtaposing a shot of the Statue of Liberty with mildly brutal treatment of the ship's huddled masses - followed by Charlie giving a kick to the officer in charge. Forcible separation of Charlie and Edna by the immigration crew, followed by Charlie's longing look after Edna departs creates a great emotional moment.
The film could have ended right there as the greatest one reeler ever as the second reel is almost its own film (indeed at least parts of it were shot first before Charlie had any idea of the content that became reel one). But the two halves are welded together with the strength of the bond between Charlie and Edna.
The second half - set in a restaurant melds the story of their chance reunion with a bully comedy interaction with waiter Eric Campbell and a comedy of manners with funny eating and folks reactions. The eating beans sequence here was later made even more famous by Robert Downey Jr as Chaplin. Edna's sympatico with Charlie is nicely realized by her "reading" that he was out of cash and trying to dissuade him from ordering her a coffee.
One of the film's best physical sequences has Charlie trying to claim a coin dropped on the floor without being noticed. Nice rare use of an aural effect in a silent film here - as the unheard sound of Charlie stamping hard on the coin starttles unheard musicians into stopping what they are playing mid stream.
The final scene of the restaurant sequence actually references the visual chemistry between Charlie and Edna - as an artist is so magnetized by it that he offers to hire them as his models and offers to pay for their meal. Of course this doesn't happen that easily and Charlie winds up having to engage in what seems like a mimed precursor to Abbott fleecing Costello or Harpo/Chico fleecing Groucho in order to pay the bill. The film ends with the most stable state happily ever after ending I can recall in any Chaplin film to date - the marriage of Charlie and Edna.
I imagine that the excellent quality of this film throughout may have contributed to it having survived in better visual form than any of its predecessors. Maybe it was better preserved and less cut up oved the last century - or maybe more effort was made in restoration - or maybe that is just a happy coincidence. The image quality is excellent enough that when looking for flaws in it the first that really jumped out were what looked like scratches on film during the closing marriage sequence. But then I realized those weren't scratches, they were rain drops. The picture quality isn't as amazing as the blu rays of some of his later features, but it is about the best to date.
I am glad for the gap I took in creating this thread, as in enabled me to come to this film with fresh eyes for Chaplin, ready to fully appreciate this wonderful film, in a way I could not have done after having reviewed 60 of his films in the space of a year or two.
And we say farewell to Goliath, Eric Campbell. He would not live to make the transition with Charlie to First National. Chaplin loaned him for a Pickford picture then a bit later he drove drunk, crashed and was killed. To say his last year of life was a nightmare would be kind.
One last appearance to come in the final Chaplin Mutual - The Adventurer
Love love love this film! You’ve said it so well with regards to priming us for City Lights. It’s got slap stick comedy, more subtle humor, romance and pathos just in a condensed form.
The one scene that never ceases to crack me up is the scene where Charlie (so elegantly) eating beans off his knife, gets distracted by Edna, and they then plop right into his coffee.
A sign of the great respect The Immigrant is accorded- it is one of 9 Chaplin films honored by inclusion in the National Film Registry. Of these it is the only short there on artistic merit (the other is Kid Auto Races In Venice - notable largely as the first appearance of his Tramp character)
I have to say that I miss the sound effects that were used on my old VHS tape. Drum rolls as the ship rocks, a slide whistle as Charlie slides across the deck, and best of all two duck calls as Charlie and the guy in the fur hat get the heaves. The heaves scene had me on the floor with the damn duck calls as their heaves start to sync up!
The Adventurer (film #64)
Two reels 26:54
Released October 22, 1917
Fun film to wrap up Chaplin's run at Mutual but nowhere near as strong as what came before or succeeded it. In this period he often seemed to alternate his major statement films with steps backward - and this was the latter. He also was clearly slowing down his pace as 4 months elapsed between these films - the largest gap yet when not switching studios.
Charlie has a great entrance here - emerging head first out of sand as he tunnelled his way out of prison, then trying to retreat into the sand when he sees a cop. He spends the first part of this film in striped prison garb with cops chasing him around a beach and into the water. While in the ocean he saves Edna and her mom and Eric Campbell from drowning (a couple times), and they take him home with them. He wakes in a comfortable bedroom in striped pajamas - which for a moment make it look like he's back in jail. The rest of the film shows him attempt to fit into their upper class home (fun with a seltzer bottle, a cigar and a servant); get into a scuffle with a backward kick; draw a beard on a "wanted" poster of himself to make the image look more like Eric; and then another chase to close.
It's wonderfully done and fun to watch but doesn't feel as fresh as it used to - or as "adventerous" as mane of his recent films ant those to come. I suspect Chaplin's focus was moving on to the more ambitious films he hoped to make for First National (the next one would be the longest film he had directed yet - three reels). Picture quality drops off a bit too - here it at times looks like it's raining when it's not.
This one seems like a bit of a retread for sure. It’s got a Keystone feel with the incompetent cops and all the chase sequences. I vaguely remember the plot on another (possibly Essannay?) short.
As always though, there are some great bits of business - locking Eric Campbell and one of the cops in the sliding doors, and altering his wanted picture in the paper to resemble his rival. Edna is great, if a bit underused.
Fascinating bits from Unknown Chaplin show how Chaplin was growing as a filmmaker and his approach to editing and pacing is improving. These will be fully realized when he gets to First National and beyond.
The restoration, as you say, leaves some to be desired. I don’t remember the Image DVD having so many scratches. Maybe a good excuse to A/B my copies!!
Charlie Chaplin Film by Film Thread. Pt. 4: First National
Separate names with a comma.