Includes:The Knockout (1914)
Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914)
The Champion (1915)
The Tramp (1915)
The Vagabond (1916)
Easy Street (1917)
Shoulder Arms (1917)
The Kid (1921)
Although better known as Charlie Chaplin's 17th appearance in a Keystone comedy, The Knockout is really a Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle film. The big event in Fatty's town is a prizefight in which champ Cyclone Flynn will meet all comers. Fatty is tricked into accepting the fight by two hobos who are making book on the fight. Through a note ostensibly from Flynn, they offer Fatty a split if he throws the fight, but Fatty, thinking one of the hobos is Flynn, refuses. The real Flynn arrives and dispatches the impostors. The match proceeds with heavy betting going on and Fatty's girlfriend dressed as a boy in order to gain entrance to the arena. Charlie is the referee who is constantly being knocked down by the fighters because he keeps getting in between them. Angered by losing after a short count, Fatty grabs two six-guns from a gambler at ringside and begins firing in all directions. Cyclone takes to his heels and a classic rooftop Keystone chase ensues, with the Keystone Kops in pursuit of Fatty, in pursuit of Cyclone. When the Kops lasso Fatty, he drags six of them along the ground by the rope until he leaps off a pier taking them all with him. With everyone treading water, the Kops surround Fatty as the film ends. ~ Phil Posner, All Movie Guide
Kid Auto Races at Venice
No synopsis available.
The Champion, Chaplin's third film for Essanay, is easily one of the funniest and is his most advanced film to date in plotting and characterization. We meet Charlie and his bulldog sharing a found hot dog, which the dog won't eat until it is salted. They pass a gymnasium advertising for sparring partners. Charlie finds a lucky horseshoe and after witnessing the condition of the previous sparring partners, he decides to employ it in his left boxing glove. He thereby kayos the club champ and becomes the new golden boy. He begins to train for the big championship fight against Champ, Bud Jamison. The beautiful daughter of the Gym owner, Edna Purviance gets his interest and seems taken with him. A shady character Leo White, a slimy betting tout, oozes into camp and tries to bribe Charlie into throwing the big fight, but while Charlie takes his money, he treats him with total contempt. On the day of the fight, Charlie says an emotional goodbye to his dog and enters the ring. In the audience are cowboy-star Bronco Billy Anderson, one of the founders of Essanay (whose initials, along with partner George K. Spoor's are the source of its name), and Ben Turpin as the vendor. The hilarious slapstick prizefight is pretty even at first, but by the fourth round Charlie's getting the worst of it. Seeing the trouble his master is in, the bulldog jumps into the ring and restrains the opponent by the seat of his pants while Charlie delivers a series of coup-de-grace punches. Charlie is hoisted on the shoulders of his cornermen as the new Champion. ~ Phil Posner, All Movie Guide
Work, Charlie Chaplin's eighth film for Essanay casts Charlie as a wallpaper-hanger's assistant who must pull the wagon containing the boss (Charles Insley) and all his gear through the city streets and up some imposing hills (created by using tilted camera angles). Charlie is little more than a beast of burden and must do all the work when they arrive at a wealthy couple's (Billy Armstrong and Marta Golden) home. The woman of the house suspects the workers of being dishonest when she catches Charlie admiring a small statue, and she locks up her valuables in a safe. This prompts Charlie to "lock up" his and his boss's watches and cash by pinning them into his pants pocket. Charlie proves to be an inept decorator, making a huge mess and causing his boss to get a bucket of wallpaper paste over his head. He befriends Edna Purviance, the maid, and in a rather intimate scene, tells her his story and his hopes for the future. The wife's lover, Leo White arrives, but when he sees that the husband is still home, he pretends to be a workman. The husband is wise to the dodge and attacks his wife's lover, eventually pulling out a revolver and chasing him around the house. A stray bullet hits the gas stove which explodes, partially burying everyone. In the famous last scene, Charlie emerges from the inverted oven door, exhales some smoke, and, sizing up the situation, smiles into the camera. ~ Phil Posner, All Movie Guide
The Tramp, Charlie Chaplin's sixth film for Essanay, is generally considered his first masterpiece. It is the first of his films that blended pathos with comedy and contains subtle pantomime along with the knockabout slapstick. Charlie is truly a tramp in this film, wandering down a dusty country road carrying his bindle. He is knocked down by near misses from two passing autos and pulls a whisk broom from his pocket and dusts himself off. He sits by a tree to eat his lunch, but it is stolen by a hobo (Leo White). Despondent, Charlie salts some grass and eats it. We next meet a farm girl (Edna Purviance) and her father (Fred Goodwins), who gives her some cash and sends her on an errand. She stops on her way to count her money and is robbed by a sinister hobo (Leo White). Her cries bring Charlie, who rescues her from the hobo and two other tramp thieves. The girl brings Charlie home to the farm, where he is rewarded with a job as a farmhand. He is inept at the job, the source of several funny scenes with a fellow farmhand (Paddy McGuire). The three thieving hoboes show up and try to involve Charlie in a scheme to rob the farmer's money. Charlie foils their efforts by hitting them on their heads with a mallet as they reach the top of the ladder that he has set up at his bedroom window.
Farmer Fred, alerted by the noise, grabs his shotgun and chases off the crooks, but Charlie gets shot in the leg accidentally. This scene is played completely straight and is utterly convincing as Charlie passes out from the pain. Charlie is next seen recuperating from his injuries, lounging at an outdoor table with the farm girl and squirting seltzer into his drink. But his happiness is short-lived. Her boyfriend (Lloyd Bacon) arrives on the scene and Charlie, seeing that his love for her is unrequited, goes into the farmhouse and writes a note: "i thout your kindness was love but it ain't cause i seen him." He turns his back to the camera and picks up the girl's hat, kisses it, and walks outside. Bidding the two farewell, Charlie refuses the money offered by the boyfriend. The film closes with what would become Chaplin's classic ending -- Charlie walking sadly back along the road, but suddenly putting an optimistic little spring in his step as the camera irises in. ~ Phil Posner, All Movie Guide
Charlie Chaplin's third film in his Mutual period is his first minor masterpiece. It combines comedy and drama in the style that Chaplin had developed in his earlier Essanay film The Tramp and anticipates later dramatic comedies such as The Kid and City Lights. Charlie plays an itinerant violinist whose famous feet we first see emerging from the swinging doors of a saloon. He takes up his position outside the back door and begins his concert, but at this moment a street band begins playing outside the front door. When Charlie enters the saloon to pass the hat, the patrons, believing he's part of the band, contribute generously. When the real band leader enters to pass his hat, a fight and chase begin from which Charlie eventually escapes. The audience is now introduced to "The Mother," an obviously upper-class woman who interrupts her embroidering and looks longingly at a photograph of her long-lost child. Charlie, having forsaken the city, wanders down a country road where he comes upon a gypsy encampment where a beautiful drudge (Edna Purviance), under the control of the brutal Gypsy Chief (Eric Campbell) is washing clothes. Charlie plays a concert for his audience of one, the fast tempo causing the girl to scrub her laundry at a lightning pace and his soulful playing evoking her strong emotions. The concert is interrupted by the Chief, who pushes Charlie into a water basin and beats the girl severely for shirking her duties. Seeing this brutality, Charlie puts aside his cane and violin in favor of a stout club and rescues the girl in an exciting scene in which they dramatically escape in one of the wagons.
Later, encamped by the side of a road, Charlie prepares breakfast while the girl goes for water. She meets a handsome artist (Lloyd Bacon), who, noticing a shamrock shaped birthmark on her arm, asks her to pose for him. After he finishes his sketch, she invites him to breakfast. During the meal, it's obvious from her face that she's infatuated with him, and Charlie is aware that he's losing her. When the artist leaves, the girl gazes longingly after him as Charlie watches her apprehensively. Some time later, the painting is exhibited in a posh gallery and the Mother, in attendance, almost collapses as she recognizes her daughter by her birthmark. Meanwhile Charlie tries to cheer up the despondent girl by promising that he'll learn to draw too. Suddenly a limousine pulls up and mother and daughter are reunited. Charlie gallantly refuses a cash reward and wishes the artist luck just before they drive off. Alone, Charlie tries to cheer himself but succumbs to his emotions. In the limousine the girl realizes her true feelings and makes the driver return to Charlie, whom she excitedly hauls off to the limousine and to a presumed life of luxury. This was not the ending originally planned for the film, in which Chaplin was going to have the Tramp attempt a drowning suicide, only to be rescued by a homely farm girl, and seeing her, jumping back in again. Fortunately, he opted for the happier, more optimistic ending. ~ Phil Posner, All Movie Guide
Arguably the best of Charlie Chaplin's 12 Lone Star/Mutual comedies, Easy Street gives us a look at the environment in which Chaplin grew up, the slums of South London. Indeed the title of the film is likely a reference to the street where Chaplin was born, East Street in Walworth. Charlie begins this film as he seldom does, as a truly down-and-out derelict, huddled sleeping at the steps of the Hope Mission. The sounds of a service in progress draws him wearily inside. After the sermon, he is entranced by the beautiful mission worker and organist, Edna Purviance and stays after the service. Inspired by their ministrations he vows to reform, returning the collection box he has slipped into his capacious pants. Out on Easy Street a gang is pummeling members of the police department, removing their uniforms for the coins in their pockets. Toughest of all is the Bully, Eric Campbell, who menaces the other toughs, taking the spoils for himself. Charlie, passing the Police Station sees the recruitment sign outside and eventually builds up his resolve sufficiently to apply. His beat is Easy Street. He encounters the Bully who threatens him and is impervious to the blows that Charlie delivers with his nightstick. In a display of his great strength, the bully bends a gas streetlamp in two, whereupon Charlie leaps on the Bully's back, covering his head with the lamp and turns on the gas. (Chaplin was injured during the filming of this scene; the lamp hit him across the bridge of the nose, holding up production for several days).
As the Bully slumps to the ground, Charlie takes his pulse and decides to give him one more shot of gas for good measure. The squad is called to retrieve the unconscious Bully and Charlie is, for the moment, cock-of-the-walk, frightening away the other street toughs by simply spinning around to face them. His work also entails charity, as he helps a woman, (who turns out to be the Bully's wife) who has stolen food from a street vendor by stealing more food for her. Edna happens by and helps Charlie get her upstairs to her tenement flat. He's rewarded for his efforts by her ingratitude, nearly dropping a flower pot on his head. Edna takes Charlie across the way to another apartment where a couple have a large brood of children whom Charlie helps to feed by scattering bread crumbs among them as if he were feeding chickens. Meanwhile, the Bully awakens at the Police Station and despite multiple blows from the collective nightsticks of the cops, he escapes and returns to Easy Street. His fight with his wife draws Charlie from across the street and a chase begins, the Bully seeking revenge for his earlier capture. Charlie drops a stove on the Bully from a second-story window, knocking him out, but the street toughs capture Edna and toss her down some steps into a subterranean speakeasy. She is threatened there by a dope addict who injects himself with cocaine. Exiting the Bully's flat Charlie is mugged by the gang and himself tossed down into the cellar. Landing accidentally on the addict's upturned needle, Charlie becomes supercharged, defeating the junkie and all the denizens of the cellar, rescuing Edna. Peace is restored to Easy Street and a new mission is in evidence. The Bully and his wife, dressed in their finest, make their way to the services, under Charlie's approving eye. Edna approaches and Charlie greets her joyously and the pair stroll arm in arm towards the welcoming minister and missionary of The New Mission. ~ Phil Posner, All Movie Guide
Shoulder Arms was Charlie Chaplin's final contribution to the World War I effort, along with his personal appearances selling Liberty Bonds and his film The Bond. It was released shortly before the end of the war, and Chaplin made prints available to soldiers fighting overseas, for which he was lauded for cheering the severely tested troops. Charlie is a member of the "Awkward Squad" and we first see him being put through his paces in training camp. He has problems with making a proper about-face and with marching, his out-turned feet, constantly annoying his drill sergeant. Exhausted after a hard drill, he collapses on his cot.
"Over there," somewhere in France, the troops are engaged in trench warfare, and Chaplin gives the audience a hilarious view on the difficulties experienced by the troops -- flooded quarters (which he shares with a sergeant played by brother Sydney Chaplin), constant shelling, sniping and homesickness. In a touching scene, a mail-less Charlie reads a letter from home over the shoulder of another soldier and on his face we can see his emotional reactions to the good and bad news that the soldier reads. Charlie is sent over the top and ends up capturing a squad of German soldiers single-handedly. His next foray, in the guise of a tree, provides a wonderful look at Chaplin's pantomime talents as he "becomes" a tree each time the enemy soldiers approach. Escaping the enemy squad he hides in a bombed-out house where a French girl, Edna Purviance, lives. She discovers him in her bed and tends to his wounds. Soon they're beset by the enemy squad, searching for Charlie. In the chase, they collapse the rickety house and Charlie escapes, but Edna is arrested for aiding the enemy.
Meanwhile Charlie's sergeant buddy is captured while attempting to telegraph information on the enemy to the allied camp. Edna and Sydney are both brought to the enemy headquarters and Edna is threatened by the evil commandant. Charlie, sneaking down the chimney of the commandant's house, rescues Edna from his advances and locks him in a closet. At that moment the Kaiser, Crown Prince and their General arrive at the camp. Charlie, rushing to the closet, takes the commandant's uniform and impersonates him. Taking charge of Edna and escorting her outside, he is recognized by his captive buddy, and the three of them overcome and restrain the Kaiser's driver and guards and replace them. When the Kaiser and the others enter the limousine, the allies drive them off to the American camp, where Charlie is hailed as a hero and is hoisted on the shoulders of his comrades. But it was all a dream - in classic Chaplinesque-style Charlie is shaken awake by his drill sergeant -- still in boot camp! ~ Phil Posner, All Movie Guide
The Kid was Charles Chaplin's first self-produced and directed feature film; 1914's 6-reel Tillie's Punctured Romance was a Mack Sennett production in which Chaplin merely co-starred.
The story "with a smile and perhaps a tear," begins with unwed mother Edna Purviance leaving the Charity Hospital, babe in arms. Her burden is illustrated with a title card showing Christ bearing the cross. The father of the child is a poor artist who cares little for of his former lover, carelessly knocking her photo into his garret fireplace and cooly returning it there when he sees it is too badly damaged to keep. The mother sorrowfully leaves her baby in the back seat of a millionaire's limousine, with a note imploring whoever finds it to care for and love the child. But thieves steal the limo, and, upon discovering the baby, ditch the tot in an alleyway trash can. Enter Chaplin, out for his morning stroll, carefully selecting a choice cigarette butt from his well used tin. He stumbles upon the squalling infant and, after trying to palm it off on a lady with another baby in a carriage, decides to adopt the kid himself. Meanwhile Purviance has relented, but when she returns to the mansion and is told that the car has been stolen, she collapses in despair. Chaplin outfits his flat for the baby as best he can, using an old coffee pot with a nipple on the spout as a baby bottle and a cane chair with the seat cut out as a potty seat. Chaplin's attic apartment is a representation of the garret he had shared with his mother and brother in London, just as the slum neighborhood is a recreation of the ones he knew as a boy.
Five years later, Chaplin has become a glazier, while his adopted son (the remarkable Jackie Coogan) drums up business for his old man by cheerfully breaking windows in the neighborhood. Purviance meanwhile has become a world famous opera singer, still haunted by the memory of her child, who does charity work in the very slums in which he now lives. Ironically, she gives a toy dog to little Coogan. Chaplin and Coogan's close calls with the law and fights with street toughs are easily overcome, but when Coogan falls ill, the attending doctor learns of the illegal adoption and summons the Orphan Asylum social workers who try to separate Chaplin from his foster son. In one of the most moving scenes in all of Chaplin's films, Chaplin and Coogan try to fight the officials, but Chaplin is subdued by the cop they have summoned. Coogan is roughly thrown into the back of the Asylum van, pleading to the welfare official and to God not to be separated from his father. Chaplin, freeing himself from the cop, pursues the orphanage van over the rooftops and, descending into the back of the truck, dispatches the official and tearfully reunites with his "son". Returning to check on the sick boy, Purviance encounters the doctor and is shown the note which she had attached to her baby five years earlier. Chaplin and Coogan, not daring to return home, settle in a flophouse for the night. The proprietor sees a newspaper ad offering a reward for Coogan's return and kidnaps the sleeping boy. After hunting fruitlessly, a grieving Chaplin falls asleep on his tenement doorstep and dreams that he has been reunited with the boy in Heaven (that "flirtatious angel" is Lita Grey, later Chaplin's second wife). Woken from his dream by the cop, he is taken via limousine to Purviance's mansion where he is welcomed by Coogan and Purviance, presumably to stay.
Chaplin had difficulties getting The Kid produced. His inspiration, it is suggested was the death of his own first son, Norman Spencer Chaplin a few days after birth in 1919. His determination to make a serio-comic feature was challenged by First National who preferred two reel films, which were more quickly produced and released. Chaplin wisely gained his distributors' approval by inviting them to the studio, where he trotted out the delightful Coogan to entertain them. Chaplin's divorce case from his first wife Mildred Harris also played a part; fearing seizure of the negatives Chaplin and crew escaped to Salt Lake City and later to New York to complete the editing of the film. Chaplin's excellent and moving score for The Kid was composed in 1971 for a theatrical re-release, but used themes that Chaplin had composed in 1921. Chaplin re-edited the film somewhat for the re-release, cutting scenes that he felt were overly sentimental, such as Purviance's observing of a May-December wedding and her portrayal as a saint, outlined by a church's stained glass window. ~ Phil Posner, All Movie Guide