Monday 8 January 2007

A Night Out (1915)

Last year I worked through a huge amount of early shorts from Charlie Chaplin, along with some of his later much renowned feature length movies. I found that just as later films like The Circus, City Lights and The Great Dictator were real classics, early films like half the 35 short films he made in 1914 were truly awful. To be fair they turned comedy on its head and set the stage for what it would become in the next few decades at the very least. One of Chaplin's last 1914 movies was Tillie's Punctured Romance, the first feature length comedy film ever made.

Those early films were for Mack Sennett's Keystone company, home of the Keystone Kops and by the last of them he was directing them himself. A year later he had moved to Essanay (from S&A for Spoor and Anderson, the founders of the studio). The budgets were bigger, the comedy had progressed and the films were notably better. This is an Essanay film and it's a pretty good one, certainly a lot better than those early shorts. It's also notable for being the first of Chaplin's films to feature Edna Purviance, who would become a regular in his movies, even starring in the feature film A Woman in Paris which he designed to be her route to stardom.

Chaplin is playing his character of the Little Tramp, as usual, and this time around he's also drunk, along with co-star and co-drunk Ben Turpin. They get into trouble with a far more classy gentleman, which we know because he has outrageous fake facial hair. They knock his hat off by accident and belt him in the face to knock him down, that sort of thing, but done with a sense of timing that seems almost unreal in the modern day. Watching Chaplin and Keaton in their prime is like watching a great ballet dancer: it really is poetry in motion. They mix it up with the dandy, the rotund head waiter at a posh restaurant and later even the waiter's wife, and I actually laughed along with it, precisely as I didn't to most of those Keystone films.

1 comment:

benning said...

Turpin and Keaton were fun to watch - I remember seeing a much older Ben Turpin show up in a W.C.Fields flick years later - but I could never really appreciate Chaplin. I love slapstick - a real Three Stooges fan! - but Chaplin's form of comedy has always left me empty.