His Regeneration (7 May 1915)

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Released: 7 May 1915, Essanay

Director: G. M. Anderson

Writer: Charlie Chaplin

Duration: approx. 15 mins.

With: G. M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson, Marguerite Clayton, Lee Willard, Hazel Applegate, Charlie Chaplin, Lloyd Bacon, Snub Pollard

Story: A burglar is persuaded to change his ways after he breaks into the home of a society woman who’d earlier shown him some kindness.

Production: Included here for the sake of completeness, His Regeneration is not really a Chaplin short at all. It is, instead, a ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson film in which Chaplin makes a brief cameo, just as Anderson did earlier in Chaplin’s The Champion. Gilbert Anderson—known as Billy—was, of course, one of the two co-founders of Essanay studios alongside George Spoor.

Chaplin’s appearance is confined to the opening sequence in the dance hall which serves to set up the dramatic dilemma for Anderson’s leading character. This features some basic Chaplin fun as he attempts to chat up a woman, chats with the house band, and then is caught up in a whirling dervish of dancing couples (influencing future scenes featuring Chaplin in such films as Modern Times, The Gold Rush, and The Immigrant).

As well as appearing briefly in the film (and his appearance would no doubt have been recognised and cheered as an unexpected surprise by filmgoers in 1915, even though he is credited as appearing in this short at the beginning where Anderson is noted as having been ‘slightly assisted’ by Chaplin!), Charlie Chaplin is also credited as having written the scenario. This is interesting, as apart from his own clowning business, this is a straight-forward drama, the first time Chaplin had written anything like this for the screen. It shows his continuing evolving interest in moving away from basic fall-about comedy into other areas of cinematic expression. His films from here on would continue to feature ever more developed dramatic scenarios as well as comic moments.

It has been speculated (by, among others, The Chaplin Encyclopedia author Glenn Mitchell) that the relationship between Anderson and Chaplin was so good (at least until he quit Essanay) that Chaplin appeared in a variety of now forgotten Essanay/Anderson movies and essentially acted as an associate producer in Anderson’s California-based unit. That may go some way to explain the freedom Chaplin was given in moving his productions back to Los Angeles for his next released short, Work.

Of course, Chaplin had essentially made several ‘guest appearances’ in the work of others more established as film comics during his year at Keystone in 1914, including alongside Fatty Arbuckle in The Knockout. Later he would turn up in Douglas Fairbanks’ 75-minute feature film The Nut (1921)—at the time the pair were establishing United Aritists with Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith—as, of all things, a Chaplin impersonator, whose Tramp costume is—according to The Chaplin Encyclopedia—reportedly slightly wrong and comic business is curiously exaggerated. I say ‘reportedly’ because biographer Jeffrey Vance doubts Chaplin’s inclusion at all: ‘It is clearly a Chaplin imitator, not Chaplin himself, who appears briefly in the party sequence wearing the Tramp costume’ (Check out The Faux Charlot web site for a clip). Chaplin also appears in what is basically a Pickford home movie, Nice and Friendly, also shot in 1921. Furthermore, there is a clip of Chaplin behind the camera directing from the feature film Souls for Sale (1923, previously lost the incomplete film has been screened on TCM in the US and is available on DVD). Roger Ebert noted that producer Samuel Goldwyn ‘must have called in a lot of favours, because there are cameo roles showing Charles Chaplin directing a scene while puffing furiously on a cigarette, Erich von Stroheim allegedly working on Greed, and such other stars as Barbara La Marr, Jean Hersholt, Chester Conklin, and Claire Windsor.’ That same year Chaplin contributed to James Cruze’s Hollywood. He appears as himself, not his Tramp character, in King Vidor’s Show People (1928) alongside Marion Davies, whose autograph he requests.

Trivia: His Regeneration would be one of the influences on the later Chaplin short Police (1916), the last he’d produce for Essanay.

The Contemporary View: ‘Even in the short time at his disposal, Chaplin assists the tale to make a very lively commencement, which is as novel in a production of this kind as it is pleasant.’—Bioscope 1915.

Slapstick: Appearing as his Tramp character, Chaplin accidentally holds hands with a man in the dance hall queue before getting to (briefly) chat up the true object of his affections. The waiter soon shifts the Tramp away from the band, but he’s quickly back amid the dancing crowds, before vanishing from the film altogether!

Verdict: One for completists, but worth checking out, 2/5

Next: Work (21 June 1915)

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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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