Released: 5 December 1914, Keystone
Director: Charles Chaplin
Writer: Charles Chaplin
Duration: approx. 13 mins
With: Mabel Normand, Mack Swain, Phyllis Allen, Harry McCoy
Story: In the park, two couples find their romantic interests intertwined.
Production: Getting Acquainted is something of a spiritual sequel to His Trysting Places, released immediately before it. It features the same core cast playing similar characters, but it takes the romantic complications to another level. It’s actually a wife swap situation, as Charlie is now paired off with the frumpy Phyllis Allen, while Swain gets to canoodle with Mabel Normand. This was the last short Chaplin shot at Keystone (the next one released, His Prehistoric Past, was shot weeks before this in October 1914), and it was all filmed in one day in Westlake Park. While that might conjure up images of yet another pointless Keystone park runaround, Getting Acquainted is a park-set comedy made by a far more experienced Chaplin. This one doesn’t feature much in the way of brick tossing, nor does it end with one or more of the participants predictably falling into the lake just before the end. As Glenn Mitchell noted in The Chaplin Encyclopedia: ‘The inter-shubbery intrigues are better choreographed than usual.’
The plot is basic stuff. On a day out in the park with his wife (Allen), Chaplin’s Tramp can’t help himself from flirting with other women, including Cecile Arnold and Mabel Normand. In the process he falls foul of an improbable Turk brandishing a knife and an irate cop (Edgar Kennedy), while Mabel’s husband Ambrose (Swain) turns his attention on Charlie’s wife. It’s an odd film, with Chaplin’s Tramp acting like a dog in heat, pursuing anyone in a skirt regardless of the consequences (some might say this would also be part of Chaplin’s real life character in years to come).
There’s not a lot else to this one. Chaplin works in one of his trademark anthropomorphising of inanimate objects when he deliberately lifts Mabel’s skirt with his cane, but when caught proceeds to thwack the cane and give it a telling off, as though it had acted without his volition. It’s a cute moment, and while this is a superior example of a Keystone ‘park’ comedy, it’s one of the high points of an otherwise run-of-the-mill short.
There is a feeling here that this was the work of a man who knew he was coming to the end of his time working with Keystone, keen to meet a contractual obligation and move on to something new. It feels as though Chaplin was chomping at the bit to get on with developing his cinematic craft. While he’d claimed to be ignorant of the interest other studios had in him at this time, it must’ve been become clear that he was being held back (financially and artistically) at Keystone. He’d exhausted all that Mack Sennett’s bright and breezy outfit could offer him.
Aware that his star turn was threatening to leave, Sennett offered Chaplin a raise to $450 per week to continue toiling at Keystone. Chaplin writes in his autobiography: ‘About this time, Sennett began to talk of renewing my contract and wanted to know my terms. I knew to some degree the extent of my popularity, but I also knew the ephemera of it and believed that, at the rate I was going, that within a year I would be all dried up, so I had to make hay while the sun shone. “I want a thousand dollars a week,” I said deliberately. Sennett was appalled. “But I don’t make that,” he said. “I know,” I answered, “but the public doesn’t line up outside the box office when your name appears as they do for mine…”’ Chaplin was beginning to get an idea of his own appeal to audiences, and was determined to get his current worth in salary. He wouldn’t get it at Keystone, however.
There’d be one more short, His Prehistoric Past, and a final appearance as the Tramp for Keystone in the Christmas-released feature film Tillie’s Punctured Romance (directed by Sennett), and that would be it for Chaplin and Keystone. A chance to refine and further develop his craft was on the horizon, and the man who was well on his way to becoming the biggest film star in the world was not going to miss the opportunity.
Slapstick: Ambrose struggles with the hand crank on a car stalled in the park. A knife in the backside makes the Tramp retreat from the Turk. Propositioning Mabel earns the Tramp a smack in the face. An enthusiastic cop chases the Tramp around the Mulberry bush. Ambrose gets familiar with Charlie’s wife and he too gets a slap in the chops. The Tramp runs between the Turk, the cop, and his wife, spinning on his heels as he does so. Husbands meet wives and wives meet husbands, with the cop knocking some sense into the menfolk.
Verdict: Familiar stuff, but well enough done, 3/5
Next: His Prehistoric Past (7 December 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.