Director: Mack Sennett
Writer: Mack Sennett
Duration: approx. 10 mins (one reel)
With: Ford Sterling, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, Chester Conklin, Minta Durfee
Story: A night out in a dance hall, a few drinks, and a pretty girl… What could go wrong?
Production: Well, it’s hardly Strictly Come Dancing, is it… Even by Keystone’s lax standards, this is a film particularly lacking in a point. The biggest thing of interest here is the fact that Chaplin appears sans moustache, perhaps indicating that he was still experimenting with the look and character of the Tramp. Although he appears more or less fully-formed in the shorts immediately before this one, perhaps Chaplin still had reservations. In fact, perhaps he’s not playing the Tramp at all, as he appears just a little too well-dressed. The sight of him in Tango Tangles may suggest something of the shock that Mack Sennett suffered when he first saw Chaplin off-stage and out of make-up, as he’d supposed the performer to be an older man.
Chaplin had often performed the role of the polite drunk in touring vaudeville shows and with the Karno troupe (as in ‘Mumming Birds’), so that part of his performance here was clearly second nature. Despite his inebriated state, it is Charlie who claims the first dance with the hat-check girl who has attracted not only his attention but that of Ford Sterling’s band leader and Fatty Arbuckle’s clarinettist. Once again, in his awful, obvious, tiresome mugging and exaggeration, Sterling displays what a terrible film comic he was, especially when placed next to the much more natural Chaplin—thankfully this is Sterling’s final film with Chaplin.
Tango Tangles was, in fact, shot in a real dance hall—the Venice Dance Hall on Abbott Kinney Pier, although some inserts are clearly shot in studio—filled with real patrons (watch the people in the background to see them genuinely reacting to the mayhem that occurs). More or less improvised on the spot, this typical low-rent Keystone number is exactly the kind of film that Chaplin would soon be reacting against as he took control of his movies. His more sophisticated clowning and considered slapstick is a particularly poor fit with the standard Keystone knockabout nonsense practiced here by Sterling.
The three principals are wearing their usual street wear and appear without make-up (hence the reason for Chaplin’s non-Tramp appearance), suggesting this was a very spur-of-the-moment enterprise on behalf of Mack Sennett. There are hints here of the more sophisticated comedy to come in such boxing or fight films as The Champion (1915) and City Lights (1931), while Charlie’s drunk act would reappear frequently, most notably in His Favourite Pastime (1914), A Night Out (1915), One A.M. (1916), and Limelight (1952).
While Tango Tangles is an unsophisticated little film, it is unique in offering a real-life glimpse of the then just 24-year old Charlie Chaplin immediately before he was consumed by worldwide fame (and later, notoriety).
Slapstick: As soon as he enters, Charlie is tangling with chorus girls and then falling flat on his backside. Later, there’s the usual contretemps between Sterling and Chaplin that sees them both landing on the dance floor. Attempting to put on the same coat sees the pair have a riot in the cloakroom—but Charlie gets in the last punch.
Verdict: Murder on the dance floor, 2/5
Next: His Favourite Pastime (16 March 1914)
CHARLIE CHAPLIN: A CENTENARY CELEBRATION
An 80,000 word ebook chronicle of Chaplin’s early films from Keystone (1914) and Essanay (1915), based on the blog postings at Chaplin: Film by Film with 20,000 words of supplemental biographical essays.