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Monday, 11 June 2007

The Fireman (1916) Charles Chaplin

There was a bizarre genre back in the twenties called the silent musical, in which you'd see everything you'd expect to see in a musical, just without the songs in the song and dance routines. This appeared to be an early example for a while, like Busby Berkeley choreographing the Keystone Kops, but then it turned into an effects film instead.

Chaplin had worked out the humorous possibilities in showing film backwards and the technique gets used well here. Unfortunately every two or three seconds for the first half of the film, someone's ass gets kicked, usually Charlie's, and that got tired very quickly indeed. In fact that got tired quite a few films before this one.

There is a subplot though. Charlie works for the fire crew, rather than being a tramp for a change, and while he fights with Eric Campbell, the foreman, Campbell puts the wheels in motion for a new fight. A rich man, played by prolific director Lloyd Bacon, promises him his daughter Edna Purviance's hand if he'll only let his house burn down so that he can claim on the insurance.
Naturally things don't go quite as they were planned, with Charlie getting in the midst of exactly what you'd expect. This has its moments but it's more of a throwback to his 1915 level of humour rather than what he was beginning to achieve in 1916.

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