Wednesday 4 June 2014

Her Friend the Bandit (1914)

Director: Mack Sennett
Stars: Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand and Charles Murray
I'm reviewing each of the 36 films Charlie Chaplin made for Keystone Studios in 1914 on the centennial of their original releases. Here's an index to these reviews.
As I work through each of Charlie Chaplin's films from his debut year of 1914, this will be the shortest of the reviews I'll post, for one very good reason: Her Friend the Bandit is considered a lost film. Now, we can all cross our fingers and hope that maybe one day it'll show up somewhere. After all, A Thief Catcher was rediscovered in 2009 at an antiques show in Michigan, and that wasn't just considered lost, it was also considered to have never even existed, a mythical beast referenced only in a memory of Chaplin's that he had once played a Keystone Kop. In reality, it had over time become conflated with this picture, which was later reissued under the title of The Thief Catcher. Flicker Alley have already made half of A Thief Catcher available to the public in their Chaplin at Keystone box set and the whole film is due for a July release by the same company in The Mack Sennett Collection, Vol 1. So, who knows if some film fan will one day turn up a copy of the last remaining lost Chaplin movie, Her Friend the Bandit. Here's to hoping.

Without being able to see the film today, we're stuck looking at contemporary reviews, which I've found to be rarely particularly helpful. For a start, tastes were wildly different, leading to reviews like the one in The Cinema that said about Chaplin's threadbare second picture, 'Kid Auto Races struck us as about the funniest film we have ever seen.' Sometimes, however, it almost feels like reviewers saw utterly different films. For instance, the Syracuse Post-Standard review of His Favorite Pastime, as quoted in The Complete Films of Charlie Chaplin, focused on the final scene in which Charlie is stuck at the top of a telegraph pole lowering a chunk of limburger cheese to drive off his enemy who's below with an axe. No known print of the film contains this scene and it wouldn't seem to remotely fit with the rest of it. Perhaps it was tacked on from another source for a reissue. More likely, the reviewer just confused it with another picture, 'Charlie's India rubber countenance' sounding far more like Buster Keaton than the Chaplin of 1914.

The synopses we have suggest that Charlie shrugs off the costume of the Little Tramp once more, which he did for a number of films in 1914. This time it's so that he can play a bandit, perhaps an elegant one, as some accounts have it. He's already had a flirtation with Mabel, naturally played by Mabel Normand, so could be forgiven for attending a party at her house. However he attends it while masquerading as a French nobleman, Count de Beans, and his inability to mimic the etiquette required to prove that he's a member of high society brings him down. In other words, his continual and presumably highly comedic faux pas shock the guests until the Keystone Kops are called and we finish up in the usual chase scene. This sounds like an interesting new approach for a Chaplin picture, while never straying too far from the usual mechanics required for Keystone slapstick. That Chaplin wrote the picture himself promises much, but it was also directed by Mack Sennett, so may have inevitably remained closer to the routine.

Most of the cast are unverified, but confirmed in support to Chaplin and Normand as the real Count de Beans is Charles Murray. Older than Chaplin by seventeen years, he only debuted on screen in 1912, a couple of years before his rival here, but he had churned out over eighty films before this one and had also established a regular character, Skelley, at Biograph. This was his first picture with Chaplin, though he would be back for Mabel's Married Life, The Masquerader, His New Profession and, like everyone else at Keystone, the feature length Tillie's Punctured Romance. Normand, of course, was a Keystone regular who had appeared in many Chaplin films, as he had also appeared in many of hers. Having so recently brought a little feminine charm to The Fatal Mallet, this would seem to be a great opportunity for her to play an elegant hostess, Mrs de Rocks. Sadly we may never know, because at this time, as far as we're aware, nobody has yet turned up a print of this picture. Check your attics, folks!

Important Sources:
Gerald McDonald, Michael Conway & Mark Ricci - The Complete Films of Charlie Chaplin (1988)

Because this film is considered lost, it's not available online (or anywhere else, for that matter) to view. Anything you see online under this title is erroneous. For instance, this one and this one are really Chaplin's 1916 Essanay two reeler, Police, while these fragments aren't even from a Chaplin movie, they're from Chaplin imitator Billy West's film His Day Out.

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