A Night Out (15 February 1915)

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Released: 15 February 1915, Essanay

Director: Charles Chaplin

Writer: Charles Chaplin

Duration: approx. 34 mins

With: Ben Turpin, Edna Purviance, Bud Jamison, Leo White

Story: Two swells (Chaplin, Turpin) on the town meet their matches…

Production: Charlie Chaplin didn’t like his new working environment at Essanay’s Chicago studios. Ironically, he’d chosen to work there for his Essanay debut, His New Job, as he didn’t much fancy their limited facility at Niles, 60 miles outside San Francisco either. However, the cold climate, windy weather and factory-like working environment was not conducive to Chaplin’s evolving art. George Spoor—the ‘S’ of Essanay—was still suspicious of Chaplin’s actual worth and for his part, Chaplin wasn’t happy working under his supervision. Max Anderson—the ‘A’ of Essanay—had returned to the company’s Niles facility after showing Chaplin around in Chicago to resume work on his on-going Broncho Billy series of westerns. Chaplin decided to join him and having completed work on His New Job on 12 January 1915, he had returned to California by 18 January. He felt working under Anderson’s supervision would be a better bet, as Anderson was at least a filmmaker, while Spoor was much too like the New York money men who effectively ran the new Hollywood studios from their East coast outposts.

Niles is a small town, but even today it boasts proudly of its connections to Charlie Chaplin. There’s a Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum (http://www.nilesfilmmuseum.org/) paying tribute to the community’s filmmaking past, as well as small stores selling Chaplin merchandise and many cashing in on the town’s century-old cinematic legacy. Formed around a notable railroad junction, Niles is located east of San Francisco, south of Oakland and north of San Jose within the city of Fremont. The studio lot sat at the western entrance to Niles Canyon, the location for many of the Broncho Billy movies. The studio lot itself was essentially a fallow field upon which had been constructed a giant barn-like studio building. The glass roof ensured plenty of light, but it also caused those working on movies to have to toil under stuffy and hot conditions. Upon arrival, Chaplin moved into a room in a bungalow—one of a row that featured as background for street scenes in the movies—on the studio lot that he initially shared with Anderson. The accommodation was primitive, especially for men who were making a substantial income, but Chaplin had lived in far worse conditions during his childhood in London. Anderson mainly lived in a studio financed suite in the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, only staying at Niles when he absolutely had to. Chaplin quickly paid a visit to the city, bought a violin and proceeded to practice for several hours each day. His colleagues at the studio were relieved when the new signing finally moved into a room in Niles’ one and only hotel.

Chaplin now had three weeks to make each of his two-reel shorts, rather than the single week he’d been allocated at Keystone. Chaplin was intent on expanding his scope. In an early interview promoting his arrival as Essanay’s newest star, Chaplin had ruminated: ‘I have a distinct theory regarding farces… I believe that a plot which could easily become a dramatic subject, but which is treated in an amusing manner and which burlesques events of daily life … is the one way to make successful farce comedy. I hope my releases under the Essanay banner will be as agreeable as my past work…’ Chaplin would subtly expand his comedy, building in more drama and telling more rounded stories with proper conclusions over his next few films, with A Jitney Elopement (1915) the first to really show a new direction. By the time of The Tramp (1915), he’d be introducing more pathos into the character he played, thereafter making it integral to his films.

Chaplin’s biggest challenge after re-locating to California once again was to find a new leading lady as his co-star, someone who could fill Mabel Normand’s shoes without bringing the difficulties he’d experienced working with her. An advert was placed in the San Francisco Chronicle: ‘Wanted: The prettiest girl in California to take part in a moving picture.’ Auditions were held at the Belvoir Hotel in Niles, where several applicants were screen tested, among them Edna Purviance.

Or perhaps she was discovered by Chaplin and Anderson, who were in San Francisco while the cafe set was under construction for A Night Out, searching for a potential leading lady. Purviance was recommended to the pair, and an interview conducted at the St. Francis Hotel by Union Square. Except, maybe she was discovered when a cowboy bit part actor playing in a Broncho Billy short at the Essanay studio recalled a blonde secretary who wanted to be an actress and put her in touch with Chaplin. Or did Chaplin meet her at a reception in Los Angeles in 1914 (a photo of the Keystone crowd and Purviance in Chaplin’s own ‘My Life in Pictures’ is dated 1914) and kept her in mind for a possible future film role? All these stories, and no doubt several others, have seen print over the years as explanation of how then 19-year-old Edna Purviance came to work with Charlie Chaplin at Essanay.

Chaplin2015ANightOut2Chaplin himself told the story of the accidental discovery in San Francisco, while for her part Purviance (left) claimed to have responded to the newspaper advertisement. Hundreds of girls had turned out for the audition, putting the young woman off making the attempt, so instead she visited with an acquaintance who worked at the studio instead. According to her account, she was spotted by Chaplin, who firmly pointed in her direction and exclaimed ‘That’s the type I want!’ Purviance didn’t recognise Chaplin as he was out of costume and make-up, dressed in his very different civilian guise. Chaplin asked her to co-star in his next picture, to which she claimed to have replied: ‘Why not? I’ll try anything once!’

Puirviance had been born in Nevada in 1895, where her parents had owned a hotel. She attended business college in San Francisco, and was working as a secretary in 1915 when Charlie Chaplin ‘discovered’ her. She had taken part in amateur dramatic productions in her mid-teens, but supposedly harboured no real ambitions to become an actress. This suited Chaplin fine as he, according to cameraman Rollie Tothero (quoted in Peter Ackroyd’s Charlie Chaplin) wanted an untested actress who ‘didn’t know her arse from her elbow’. That way, Chaplin could mould exactly the performance he wanted. Purviance was so successful in the role that she appeared in each of Chaplin’s subsequent films (except for One A.M.) through until 1923— an eight year period.

‘I had thought of myself as gifted,’ recalled Purviance in 1916, ‘with a little more than ordinary intelligence. After the first day in front of the camera [in A Night Out], I came to the conclusion that I was the biggest boob on Earth. Charlie was very patient with me, and after my first picture—in which I was terrible—I began to get used to the work, and although I have had occasional relapses, I am at least “camera wise” by now…’

Purviance would prove to be a good foil for Chaplin, her blonde hair contrasting nicely with his darker features, her natural on-screen warmth making up for his sometimes frosty character. She served to suggest to Chaplin that he could humanise the Tramp even more, make the audience have more sympathy for him and his plight, rather than indulging in the nonsense knockabout comedy that had been the forte of the Mack Sennett Keystone crowd. It wasn’t long before their on-screen chemistry spilled over into an off-screen real life affair. She was soon living in a hotel not far from Chaplin, and the pair generally dined together every evening. Out-takes from some of the movies made during this period seem to show a spontaneous fun-loving girl, quite distinct from the more mannered character that she would ‘perform’ on screen. Perhaps that’s exactly what Chaplin needed to ground him at this point in his increasingly tumultuous life.

Chaplin2015ANightOut3BudWilliam ‘Bud’ Jamison (right) plays the head waiter and jealous husband of Edna Purviance’s character in A Night Out. This would be the first of a series of appearances for the 6ft tall California-born vaudeville veteran in various Chaplin shorts. Previously he’d appeared in some of Harold Lloyd’s Lonesome Luke comedies (the part he played before perfecting his ‘glasses’ character) and in some early solo Stan Laurel comedies, before the latter’s teaming with Oliver Hardy by Hal Roach. Later in his career he’d work with the likes of the Three Stooges, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon and Charley Chase in Columbia’s sound shorts. He died in 1944.

For the film Chaplin revived his well-worn drunk act from his British vaudeville days on the stage, putting himself and Ben Turpin (in his final major appearance with Chaplin) in a version of the vaudeville staple ‘The Funny Drunks’ in what essentially a remake of The Rounders, his Keystone movie with Rosco ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle. According to Ackroyd’s Chaplin biography, so convincing were the pair during filming at the Hotel Oakland in Oakland, California that they were almost arrested for being intoxicated in public. Oddly, it might have been supposed that Chaplin’s fame across America at this point would have tipped off even the dimmest cop as to what was actually going on, making the entire tale somewhat suspect.

After a weekend in San Francisco following the shooting of the film, Chaplin returned to the studio only to discover that in his absence Anderson had begun editing the short by cutting up the actual camera negative. Chaplin was furious, tearing a strip off both Anderson and the cameraman involved in the editing, Rollie Totheroh. Chaplin wanted to cut on film, so that he could experiment with putting his shorts together: cutting the negative destroyed the original material from which he hoped to hone a precise piece of closely considered comedy. As a result of Chaplin’s complaint the studio had to install new equipment so they could develop their film on site. The incident was unfortunate, but it served two purposes. It established Chaplin’s preferred way of working early on, and brought those at Essanay’s Niles facility into line with his way of thinking, which helped improve his films. Almost as importantly, the incident led to Chaplin striking up a great personal and professional relationship with Totheroh, who would serve as Chaplin’s principal cameraman for almost the next four decades.

Roland H. Totheroh, known to all as ‘Rollie’, had been born in 1890 in San Francisco and was a former cartoonist and minor league ball player before working in cinematography at Essanay before Chaplin’s arrival. Totheroh recalled the crew’s reaction to Chaplin’s arrival, surprised to discover he was English: ‘We all thought he was a little Frenchman!’ Totheroh was once credited as being the principal cameraman on Chaplin’s Essanay shorts, but later research has suggested it was more likely that Totheroh functioned as an assistant to cinematographer Harry Ensign during this period. Totheroh, as a result of the relationship he built with Chaplin during 1915, went with the comedian when he moved on to Mutual in 1916, and worked with him right up until his death (in 1967) with his final credit being ‘photographic consultant’ on Limelight (1952).

Chaplin2015ANightOut4RollieThere is much for film buffs and Chaplin enthusiasts to be grateful to Totheroh (pictured left, behind Chaplin) for. Throughout Chaplin’s career from this point onwards, Totheroh functioned as an ad-hoc Chaplin archivist and film conserver. When few people were giving any thought to film preservation beyond the short term aim of making money through nickelodeon distribution, Totheroh (perhaps as a result of his close proximity to Chaplin) viewed their work together as a form of art, worth preserving. It was actually contrary to Chaplin’s direct instructions that Totheroh kept all the out-takes from the films that the filmmaker himself initially wanted destroyed. It has been suggested that the initial impetus for this came from Totheroh’s cautious nature, with him maintaining the material as safety copies in case the original negative should ever get damaged. Totheroh’s foresight allowed the much later creation of the fascinating Kevin Brownlow three-part documentary television series Unknown Chaplin (1983) which drew heavily upon the out-takes and other material Totheroh kept safe.

In A Night Out, two drunks (Chaplin, Turpin) out on the town fall foul of a ‘French count’ (Leo White), only to encounter him once more in a restaurant, where their drunken harassment sees them ejected by a out-sized waiter (Jamison, almost in Eric Campbell mode, Chaplin’s foil in many of the Mutual comedies). The Tramp lights upon a pretty girl (Purviance) whom he tries to seduce, before discovering she’s married to the hostile waiter. He quickly moves to another hotel to escape him, but unfortunately the harassed couple plan the exact same move. The climax is a hotel room mix-up straight out of Mabel’s Strange Predicament or Caught in the Rain from the previous year.

There’s little that’s new here, over and above the Keystone versions of the same basic material, but the execution under Chaplin’s ever-more sure hand is somewhat better than his work in the previous year. Despite their personal animosity and falling out over the best method of constructing cinematic comedy, Turpin and Chaplin make a good team in A Night Out, but they don’t reach the thwarted heights once promised by Chaplin’s teaming with Arbuckle in The Rounders. In many ways, Turpin’s comic shtick is too close to Chaplin’s own to provide the kind of contrast that Arbuckle’s bulkier figure offered. However, they do spark off one another well in a near-perfect cinematic resurrection of that old vaudeville drunk routine. ‘I have since proved that I could work without him,’ Turpin would later say of his time after Chaplin. ‘I am now a star and my films make a lot of money.’ Despite his increasing fame and wealth, it seems that Chaplin was neither interested in becoming a ‘star’ per se, nor was he particularly interested in money. The challenges of creating unique and captivating film comedy were his driving force, not fame and fortune: in fact he’d find both of those things, when they were thrust upon him during 1915, to be largely troubling.

Trivia: In press interviews given upon his arrival at Essanay, Chaplin claimed his ‘highly cultivated’ mother was dead: this wasn’t true, Hannah Chaplin was resident at Peckham House hospital before moving to the Cane Hill asylum. Chaplin and his half-brother Syd were paying for her care.

The Contemporary View: ‘The film gives Chaplin full elbow room for many extraordinary antics and touches of humorous detail, and the fun romps along at top speed … Turpin makes an excellent partner, and takes many a stunning knockout blow with paralytic indifference.’—The Cinema (1915).

Slapstick: Even before anyone’s had a drink, the encounter with the ‘French count’ gets physical. Some hat trouble serves to re-acquaint them in the posh hotel. Soon Turpin’s taking a tumble (or two). The prominent fountain proves to be a well of slapstick nonsense, including the Tramps ablutions. When Turpin is tossed out, the Tramp gets familiar with the count’s lady friend. The Tramp’s cane comes in handy for retrieving his pal from the curious cop. The Tramp finds walking a drag, so Turpin lends a hand (or two). Keyhole peeping gets the Tramp’s pants wet (there’s a soda syphon involved). An unexpected reunion with the hotel’s waiter prompts a change of residence for the Tramp, although signing the register proves something of a challenge. The two pals reunion in the park quickly turns into a punch up (and a classic Keystone-style brick gag) over the room rent. The cane is anthropomorphised even more than ever before when the Tramp tucks it in for the night (one of this short’s best bits). Apparently candlestick phones don’t dispense water, nor do they make for good clothes hangers. A canine calamity brings things to a chaotic climax.

Verdict: A mash-up of some old Keystone favourites, it is clear that Chaplin is still searching for a unique signature, 2/5

Next: The Champion (11 March 1915)

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CHARLIE CHAPLIN: A CENTENARY CELEBRATION

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His New Job (1 February 1915)

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Released: 1 February 1915, Essanay

Written and directed by Charles Chaplin

Duration: approx. 30 mins

With: Ben Turpin, Charlotte Mineau, Leo White, Agnes Ayres, Gloria Swanson, Jesse Robins

Story: Hired by ‘Lockstone’ film studios, the Tramp experiences life behind-the-scenes and as a featured extra, causing havoc wherever he goes…

Production: Charlie Chaplin set out on his second year of making motion pictures a somewhat changed man from the neophyte who’d arrived at the doors of Mack Sennett’s Keystone studios in December 1913. He’d gone from hired clown to creator of his own material, from a stage-trained vaudevillian who knew nothing about making films to the most accomplished director on the Keystone lot. All those around him, towards the end of 1914, knew that Keystone’s simple formulas could no longer contain Chaplin’s growing talent. In order to further develop his art and craft in motion picture comedies, Chaplin knew he’d have to look elsewhere.

He’d become such a success with American audiences during the second half of 1914 that Chaplin was the subject of a minor bidding war among rival studios. He wasn’t prepared to jump at the first nor the most lucrative offer: control was all to Chaplin. Any deal he made had to guarantee him full control over his own films, the kind of right that had been hard-won during his year at Keystone, chaffing under the restrictions imposed upon his filmmakers by Mack Sennett.

The winners of Chaplin’s services for 1915 were the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company of Chicago. The studio name came from the founders, ‘S’ for George Spoor and ‘A’ for Gilbert M. Anderson (born ‘Max Aronson’). Both were film industry pioneers, with Spoor working in exhibition and distribution while Anderson was better known to audiences as ‘Broncho Billy’, the first major cowboy film star. Anderson, more than Spoor, understood the creative nature of filmmaking and was prepared to offer Chaplin $1250 per week with a $10,000 signing on bonus.

Much more important was the freedom Anderson promised: no longer would Chaplin be held to the rigid deadlines that applied at Keystone, where each short film was just another in a long Henry Ford-style manufacturing chain, pumped out to keep cinema audiences briefly amused. Instead, Essanay were offering Chaplin larger budgets, more time, and the freedom to explore the still developing art of cinema comedy at his own pace. Despite his obvious popularity at Keystone, Spoor had his doubts that Chaplin was worth the money the studio was offering, but he agreed to be guided by Anderson.

Chaplin preferred the Essanay set-up at Chicago over their Californian base just outside San Francisco, so at the turn of the year the young comedian (he was still only 25-years-old) made his way to the cold East. One of the first challenges Chaplin faced in Chicago was recreating his now world-famous Tramp costume: the original had been left behind at Keystone. The new-look Tramp outfit was put together with items that Chaplin simply bought ‘off-the-shelf’ in various Chicago stores. He went up and down State Street, obtaining the baggy trousers and tight jacket he needed. His biggest problem, however, was in finding just the right pair of outsized shoes to compliment his distinctive waddling walk. With the costume recreated, Chaplin was ready to begin the next phase of his filmmaking life. Despite the initial thrill of coming to work at Essanay on his enlarged salary, Charlie Chaplin was to find that life at the new company wasn’t going to be as smooth as he’d hoped.

The story goes that Charlie Chaplin broke the ice with his new studio colleagues in Chicago by performing an outlandish clog dance in his full Tramp regalia, recalling his days as one of the Lancashire Lads. Once advanced orders from cinema distributors for the first Chaplin film from Essanay crossed the 100 mark, even George Spoor was more accommodating to his studio’s new star name. He paid for a series of full page ads which appeared on 16 January 1915 in Motion Picture News and Motion Picture World boasting of the studio’s newest player: the world’s ‘greatest’ and ‘funniest’ comedian was now with Essanay, and the studio wanted the movie world to know about it. Less than two weeks later, similar ads ran in the British movie press, such as Bioscope magazine, dubbing Chaplin ‘The greatest motion picture comedian the world has ever seen’! However, Essanay were not used to working Chaplin-style: the studio shut up shop every night at 6pm sharp, regardless of what was shooting, regularly screened film rushes in negative format to save the cost of developing, and—even worse from Chaplin’s point-of-view—performers were issued their scripts from the ‘scenario department’ (then run by future movie gossip columnist Louella Parsons).

Chaplin, of course, was having none of it. His first film for the new management was autobiographically inspired—and it would be the only film he’d make in Chicago, a town he found more than lived up to its billing as the ‘Windy City’. Cheekily entitled His New Job, it is set in a familiar-looking movie studio called ‘Lockstone’. Chaplin’s Tramp is a stagehand, helping out with the props behind the scenes, when he unexpectedly finds himself promoted to be an on-screen player in the absence of the movie’s true star. Admittedly, this first Essanay film is not a great advance upon the work Chaplin was doing during his final few months at Keystone, but it does contain a few pointers to his future direction and introduced a new series of collaborators he’d be working with over the coming year.

Prime among them was Ben Turpin. Born in 1869, the famously cross-eyed comedian had been with Essanay since shortly after its inception in 1907. Turpin was a seat-of-the pants comedian who had no time for Chaplin’s more consider, formal approach to devising his comedy business. Shaped in the crucible of American vaudeville, circus and even burlesque (where he’d provide the largely-ignored comedy in between the strippers), Turpin was the recipient of what was believed to be the first pie-in-the-face gag in the 1909 Essanay short Mr Flip. By 1912, his distinctive look (he had his unique eyes insured by Lloyds of London for $25,000, believing them to not only be his trademark but also key to his comedic livelihood) was well-known and he was a recognised film comedy star.

With the arrival of Chaplin, however, Turpin found himself demoted to the role of ‘second banana’ (essentially filling the role played by Chester Conklin in many of the Keystone shorts), something he was less than pleased about. Perhaps if Chaplin had stuck it out in Chicago a bit longer, the duo may have been forced to get on, but with his early departure back to the West coast after His New Job, his work with Turpin was curtailed (comprising the first two Essanay films, His New Job and A Night Out, a tiny role in The Champion and an appearance in the new scenes Essanay would add to Chaplin’s Burlesque on Carmen to fill it out to featurette length). In a strange kind of job swap, Turpin would later go on to become a star at the Mack Sennett studio for the next decade or so. One of Turpin’s final film appearances was alongside Laurel and Hardy in Saps at Sea (1940), one of their early features. Turpin, who’d enjoyed great wealth since his retirement from the screen due to his careful real estate investments, died in 1940, aged 70.

Also appearing in His New Job was Leo White, a fellow Brit born in Manchester in 1882. He’d performed on the music hall stage across Britain before making the journey to America in about 1910 where he made something of a name for himself in the ‘Sweedie’ film comedies with Wallace Beery (who dragged up as a strange, supposedly Swedish maid) from 1914. Unlike Turpin, White would remain part of Chaplin’s evolving stock company of supporting acts right through to his time at Mutual studios and even as late as The Great Dictator (1940). In His New Job, White first appears more or less as himself at the studio reception before putting on his ‘comedy character’ costume, a kind of dandified cod-European nobleman which he’d most often play in Chaplin’s films. He’ll turn up regularly throughout Chaplin’s time at Essanay.

Perhaps easy to miss in His New Job, as she was uncredited and right at the back of the opening scene, was an appearance of actress Gloria Swanson, more associated with melodrama than silent comedy. Perhaps best known for her role as Norma Desmond, the bitter former silent movie star in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), it is sometimes forgotten that Swanson was actually a genuine silent comedy performer, even before she became the muse of director Cecil B. DeMille. Born in Chicago in 1899, Swanson was an army brat who started in movies as an extra at Essanay in 1914, the same year Chaplin was learning the movie ropes at Keystone. She attempted to win the leading female role in His New Job (played by Charlotte Mineau), but Chaplin just didn’t see her in the part (he was looking for a new Mabel Normand type, and eventually found Edna Purviance) casting her instead in the minor role of the uncredited stenographer. She recalled of Chaplin in Chicago that he ‘kept laughing and making his eyes twinkle, and talking in a light, gentle voice, encouraging me to let myself go and be silly.’ The following year she’d be in California working for ‘king of comedy’ Mack Sennett, before becoming a genuine star in her own right in a series of De Mille movies, including Male and Female (1919) and Why Change your Wife? (1920, in which she performed opposite a real lion). In addition, she became something of a fashion icon, defining the look of 1920s Hollywood in the eyes of many movie fans. Ironically, Swanson would imitate Chaplin on screen twice, in Manhandled (1924) and Sunset Boulevard (which, of course, also featured Buster Keaton—Chaplin’s rival and Limelight co-star—as her long-suffering butler). Much later, she would also narrated the Chaplin documentary The Eternal Tramp (1970).

Charlotte Mineau, playing the role Swanson wanted, would become one of Chaplin’s regular supporting cast at Essanay and Mutual, appearing in his movies through to 1917’s Easy Street. She’d been in a Sweedie film (Sweedie Goes to College, 1915) opposite Turpin and Swanson, and ended her career with the Marx Brothers in Monkey Business (1931). Following her retirement from the screen in 1932, she lived to the grand old age of 93, dying in 1979.

Perhaps Chaplin needed to do something easy, given the unfamiliar surroundings and people he was now working with, for his debut film at Essanay. His New Job was both a good joke on his actual circumstances and provided a ready-made backdrop as it was set in a film studio. There’s no great change in Chaplin’s character here, either. He didn’t take the fresh start as an opportunity to reinvent the Tramp, not yet at least. Instead, Chaplin seemed content simply to reproduce all those elements that had made him such a success in the previous year, possibly being afraid to change too much, too soon. He’s physically violent, causing mayhem and chaos wherever he goes around the studio, amused by his own unerring ability to disrupt the work in progress. This is the Tramp as malevolent imp, using whatever objects come to hand to further his aim of causing trouble, whether its a soda syphon, a saw, or a scenic pillar. The movie was put together in just two weeks, not quite Keystone pace but pretty quick nonetheless.

Drawing upon previous Keystone work, most obviously A Film Johnnie and The Masquerader, Chaplin takes the opportunity of His New Job to not only comment upon his own new employment but also upon the madness of filmmaking itself, at a time when the art form was in its relative infancy (he’d do it yet again in 1916’s Behind the Screen). While there is little new here, in terms of comedic content, there is a slight advance in style. At Keystone, such was the breakneck pace of production that a ‘point-and-shoot’ aesthetic was all that could be managed: the camera rarely moved, if ever, and everything was shot in a four-square, locked off fashion. In some sections of His New Job, the camera tracks (ever so slightly) along with the action, suggesting that Chaplin was either pushing himself to experiment or had picked up the idea from someone at Essanay, perhaps his photographer on this short, Jackson Rose. Either way, it was a sign of things to come, with Chaplin increasingly experimenting with form and content as the year progressed, deepening and developing the character of the Tramp far beyond what had been possible at Keystone.

Within just six months of his arrival as Essanay’s newest star, Charlie Chaplin would not just be well known in America but would be well on his way to becoming a world famous figure… and he was only getting started.

Trivia: This is the first time Chaplin actually receives on-screen credit—’Featuring Charlie Chaplin’.

The Contemporary View: ‘It is absolutely necessary to laugh at Chaplin in ten-ninths of his antics in this disaster-attended search for a new job—the small point in which is evidenced the only irony in the picture.’—Chicago Tribune (1915).

Slapstick: From the first moment, when Charlie cosies up to the girl also waiting for an audition, we recognise this is the Tramp we’ve known from Keystone. Especially when he immediately walks into a door. Charlie’s first meeting with Ben Turpin is all about personal space issues, and the Tramp’s cane comes in rather handy. The pair’s troubles continue either side of that pesky door. Soon Charlie’s crashing about the studio causing havoc, interrupting takes and is demoted from extra to carpenter. He’s soon back in the picture, though when the Sennett-like director fires an actor. Naturally, the dressing room provides plenty of opportunity for horsing around… Gambling proves to be a costly distraction. Soon, Charlie’s making his point… with a prop sword. He then takes a saw and a hammer to poor old Ben Turpin. The sword proves troublesome once more during repeated takes. A cigarette promises sophistication until Charlie topples a pillar like a celluloid Samson. A rumble with the rotund director, a stramash with the star, and a final battering for Ben wrap the show.

Verdict: Slow but steady start to Chaplin’s new era, 2/5

Next: A Night Out (15 February 1915)

Available Now!

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.

Amazon US | Amazon UK