Released: 20 April 1914, Keystone
Directors: Joseph Maddern, Charlie Chaplin, Mack Sennett
Writer: Charlie Chaplin
Duration: approx. 12 mins (one reel)
With: Minta Durfee, Edgar Kennedy, Emma Clifton, Chester Conklin
Story: The Tramp is relaxing in the park, envious of those around him enjoying romantic interludes. The theft of a pocket watch allows him to try his own hand at this seduction racket…
Production: As a tentative beginning for Charlie Chaplin as the controller of his own cinematic destiny, Twenty Minutes of Love is an interestingly safe choice. Not only is it based upon the standard Keystone ‘park’ comedy format, in which a series of incidents occur in a public park, but while Chaplin took full creative control of this one reeler and contributed to the direction, he had Joseph Maddern on hand to make sure things went smoothly—and everything took place under the close (perhaps concerned) supervision of Keystone head Mack Sennett.
All this was very sensible, with Chaplin taking great precautions to make things easier for himself before taking the reins fully with his next but one short, Caught in the Rain (which Chaplin calls his directorial debut in his autobiography, although in a letter to brother Sydney he referred to Twenty Minutes of Love as ‘my own’, suggesting a sense of authorship). He would use the same basic material about a year later at Essanay when he made In The Park, at a time when Chaplin was recreating better versions of some of his earliest Keystone output.
Formerly a Broadway actor, as a director Maddern was much more willing to bend to Chaplin’s vision than either Henry Lehrman or George Nichols, or his most recent directors, Mable Normand and Mack Sennett (on Mabel at the Wheel). Maddern’s time at Keystone was brief, and in 1914 he was focused on producing educational shorts rather than the studio’s trademark comedies. With Chaplin taking creative charge of the project, it seems to have been Maddern’s job to function as more of a producer than director, making sure everything was done on time, on budget and produced useable footage. Chaplin was given a $25-per-film raise by Sennett for writing and directing, but also offered up a $1500 guarantee to the studio in case his efforts failed to produce a releasable film. He didn’t have to pay up…
Chaplin claimed in his autobiography to have shot Twenty Minutes of Love in a single afternoon, and this is entirely plausible as this is how Keystone generally approached these ‘park’ pictures. It all starts innocuously enough, with Chaplin’s Tramp observing the amorous pursuits of several couples in the park. In a lovely touch, he is driven to emulate the ecstasy of a kissing couple, except his partner is the trunk of a large tree. When one woman demands a gift from her would-be suitor (Chester Conklin), he steals a watch to give to her. This allows the Tramp to enter the action directly re-stealing the watch and presenting it to the woman (Emma Clifton) himself.
The slapstick free-for-all that climaxes the film is standard fare, but throughout there are little touches that clearly came from Chaplin that lift this above the usual Mack Sennett runaround-in-the-park caper, although everyone ends up in the lake, as per usual (with the notable exception of Chaplin’s Tramp and the girl). The film was shot in Westlake Park in Los Angeles, a frequent venue for filmmakers at this time—it’s a wonder that film units weren’t constantly running into each other when out there shooting these ‘quickie’ shorts.
For probably the first time in the Keystone series, Chaplin’s Tramp is truly the central character in this short. He’s not part of a larger story, it is through him and his antics that we, as the audience, are brought into the film. Playing alternately interested and shy when caught in the girl’s gaze, Chaplin is clearly beginning to give his signature characters more depth than he has previously been allowed—there are the beginnings of a true character here. Unlike his turn as a standard Keystone villain in the previous short (Mabel at the Wheel), Chaplin reverts to the subtlety of movement he was previously starting to display, rather than the florid over-acting personified by the likes of Ford Sterling.
Notably, Twenty Minutes of Love relies far less on inter-titles than most other Chaplin films previously did. The actor seems far happier to rely on his abilities in pantomime to convey the story, which in some of the past films could be hard to grasp, even with the aid of title cards. When confronted by a policeman, Chaplin effectively gets across the notion that the Tramp believes he is about to be arrested, when in fact the policeman is simply admiring the (stolen) watch and wants to know the time. Compare it with the pickpocket’s terribly obvious mime as he plans to steal the watch from the sleeping man on the bench. Chaplin realised that no on-screen text and no over-the-top theatrics were required to communicate his feelings: he does it all himself. It was a sign of things to come.
There is some interesting ‘hat business’ in this short as well, from the Tramp tipping his hat to a tree he bumps into (treating inanimate objects as though there were alive once more, enacting the idea of ‘transformation’), and puts a crease in the top of his bowler to affect a more sophisticated appearance as he approaches the pickpocket’s girlfriend, hoping to impress. By the end, it is Chaplin’s Tramp that is triumphant, as he’s stolen the picture as well as the young lady’s heart.
Slapstick: Bumped off a bench by an angry suitor (Edgar Kennedy) early on, most of the slapstick mayhem in Twenty Minutes of Love is saved for the climax. Chaplin’s corner-skid is present once more as he runs into the policeman for a second time, and again as he flees from the real owner of the watch. He’s knocked down several times as fights erupt by the lakeside, yet he’s the one who walks away dry (and gets the girl) as everyone else hits the drink.
Verdict: Here it begins, the true start of the proper ‘Chaplin’ shorts, 3/5
Next: Caught in a Cabaret (27 April 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.
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