Released: 10 October 1914, Keystone
Director: Charles Chaplin
Writer: Charles Chaplin
Duration: approx. 12 mins
With: Chester Conklin, Cecile Arnold, Vivian Edwards, Helen Carruthers
Story: Charlie’s in love—with his landlady, but he also has a rival…
Production: Those Love Pangs began with a simple idea. According to co-star Chester Conklin’s recollection, Chaplin simply wanted to build a film around the idea of two men who were rivals in love, always pursuing the same women. Their first romantic target was to be Chaplin’s landlady (Helen Carruthers). In his memoirs, Mack Sennett recalled that production on the largely improvised short was shut down after only a few days and a few simple shots. After a street car he was riding stopped outside a local baker, Chaplin decided that his character and that played by Conklin should be seen working together in a bakery-cum-cafe. That element proved so successful, comically speaking, that it was spun-off into the next, separate Chaplin release, Dough and Dynamite (26 October 2014). This stop-start production process would increasingly become Chaplin’s basic working method, especially after he quit Keystone at the end of 1914.
What remained to make up Those Love Pangs was a mishmash of elements familiar from a handful of then-recent Chaplin shorts, including the boarding house setting of The Star Boarder, the romantic goings on at the centre of Twenty Minutes of Love, and in the cinema-set climax, elements of A Film Johnnie. It’s clear that in the trade off in comic material between Those Love Pangs and Dough and Dynamite, it was the second film that came off best.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing notable about this largely improvised, off-the-cuff short. It’s not as innovative or as interesting as the one that followed, but it did show—albeit in small details—that Chaplin’s art, especially his performance, was continuing to grow and develop beyond the confines of the formula of Keystone slapstick (although he still manages to include the inevitable lake-in-the-park scene, where his forlorn romantic contemplates suicide).
Clearly there was not enough mileage in the two boarders pursuing the landlady, although it is possible to imagine the kind of comedy Chaplin might have featured in during his first few months at Keystone with exactly this premise. At this stage in his development, though, he’d clearly become bored by these formulaic approaches to single reel comedies. That is evident in the lacklustre opening to Those Love Pang which has Chaplin and Conklin clowning around (Chaplin sticks a fork in Conklin’s bum to sabotage his attempt to chat up the landlady; Conklin then does the same to Chaplin) to no great comic effect. There is none of the comic spark here to match that between Chaplin and Arbuckle in The Rounders.
Evidence of the lack of focus comes when the scene rapidly changes, first to the local park (as if Chaplin had panicked and simply fell back on the Keystone park film formula to fill a quota), then to a nickelodeon. Throughout, Chaplin develops the use of his cane as a more significant prop, perhaps following Arbuckle’s use of it during The Rounders. He pulls a slow-to-keep-up Conklin along with the hook of the cane, then uses it to send a rival into the lake (someone had to fall in). That cane is one of the instantly recognisable props associated with Chaplin, a key element of his costumed ‘look’, but not a prop he’d done a lot with prior to this point. He also applies his skills of transformation to the cane (making regular objects appear to be things they are not or were never intended to be). During Those Love Pangs, the cane becomes both a toothpick and a nail cleaner. It had been part of his comic persona almost from the beginning, but would now become a more obvious element that Chaplin would come to rely upon going forward.
It may not seem obvious from the distance of a full century, but it seems likely that the two women the boys encounter in the part were intended to be read as prostitutes, as first pointed out by Glenn Mitchell in The Chaplin Encyclopaedia. Cecile Arnold, whom Conklin encounters first, is clearly made-up and hair-styled to suggest sexual availability (she also appears to give him a substantial amount of money which suggests he might be her pimp), while Vivian Edwards, whom Chaplin encounters, looks him over before he even clocks her. The cinematic depiction of women in this way would have been something rather unusual, especially in a comedy, but Keystone did have something of a habit (in many of their non-Chaplin shorts) of implying that women wandering about in the park were generally available…
The climax in the cinema offers another glimpse of the way in which audiences would be watching Chaplin’s first shorts back in 1914, including the rather uncomfortable folding chairs that made up many of the improvised performance or shop-front spaces used as nickelodeons. Chaplin does some wonderful pantomiming here, using his feet to express his ecstasy at being positioned between the two women he’s got his arms around. The sodden boyfriend and dazed Conklin follow their prey into the cinema, leading to the final scene in which, amid the usual Keystone melee, they throw Chaplin through the screen and pelt him with bricks.
There are all the elements here of the usual Keystone fare, but they simply don’t coalesce. This was perhaps a result of the disrupted production process, with many of the best ideas for Chaplin and Conklin’s characters being put into Dough and Dynamite instead. What remains in Those Love Pangs is neither new nor particularly interesting.
Slapstick: An initial spat sees Conklin kick Chaplin to the floor. Chaplin drops a brick on the foot of the brunette’s boyfriend in the park, then uses his cane to push him into the lake. In their second spat, it is Chaplin who knocks Conklin to the ground, emptying his pockets of cash and sitting on him as if he were an armchair. Head poking out of the torn cinema screen, Chaplin his hit by a fusillade of bricks…
Verdict: The same old Keystone stuff, unfortunately, 2/5
Next: Dough and Dynamite (26 October 1914)