Directors: Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand
Writer: Charlie Chaplin
Duration: approx. 12 mins (one reel)
With: Mabel Normand, Charles Murray
Story: A bandit (Chaplin) captures a Count (Murray), stealing his identity to infiltrate a society party held by Mrs. De Rocks (Normand)…
Production: This is the only completed and released Charlie Chaplin film that is not believed to exist in any form. Others have been missing in action, such as the recently recovered A Thief Catcher (the full version of which has still not been released, but should be seen this year). There were also films undertaken but never actually released, such as The Professor (1919) whose one and only scene can be seen as part of the documentary series Unknown Chaplin. Finally, the 1926 film A Woman of the Sea, starring Edna Purviance and directed by Josef von Sternberg, was made but never released—as its producer Chaplin is reputed to have destroyed the film himself sometime in the 1930s as a tax write-off for his studio. All that remains are around 50 production stills.
So, without being able to see it, what can be said about Her Friend the Bandit? Perhaps contemporary reports of the release 100 years ago can help? Moving Picture World called the short ‘a bit thin’ but said it featured ‘the rough whirling of happenings usually found in farces of this well-marked type’. In contrast to that lukewarm write-up, the Lexington Herald acclaimed Chaplin’s work as ‘one of the funniest and most hilarious comedies in a decade’.
If those comments aren’t helpful, perhaps looking at some later works of Chaplin that apparently draw upon Her Friend the Bandit might be enlightening. Such work as The Count (1916), The Rink (1916), and The Idle Class (1921) can all claim some inspiration from this lost movie. In The Count, Chaplin’s lowly tailor’s assistant impersonates an aristocrat, while in The Rink his waiter character similarly takes on the role of a titled ‘Sir’. The Idle Class has Chaplin playing doubles, a poor man and an aristocrat, making one being mistaken for the other inevitable. Most likely a direct influence on this film was Chaplin’s most recent previous masquerade in Caught in a Cabaret.
There is, however, an element of doubt about whether Her Friend the Bandit can truly be considered a Charlie Chaplin film… Was it simply another Mabel Normand vehicle in which he was involved? That’s hard to say, without seeing how involved in the action his character is. The film’s absence from various older filmographies, including one drawn up by Chaplin himself, and the specific fact that Chaplin’s name does not appear to be mentioned in many contemporary reviews has helped blow a cloud of additional confusion over the provenance of this short.
Many now available Chaplin films were once lost, including Mabel’s Strange Predicament, A Busy Day, and Cruel, Cruel Love, so there is every hope of a future recovery. In 2012 there was some confusion when it was widely claimed that the film had been found, but it turned out to be a short called His Day Out featuring Chaplin imitator Billy West. Her Friend the Bandit was, like many of Chaplin’s early movies, re-issued to cinemas at least twice and was released in foreign editions, so there is every chance that a print may one day turn up, so completing the Chaplin filmography once and for all… Unless another previously unknown appearance should make a surprise entrance.
Slapstick: Probably, after all the climax did involve the arrival of the Keystone Kops at the party, so mayhem was guaranteed.
Verdict: One day we may be able to judge this film, just not yet, ?/5
Next: The Knockout (11 June 1914)