Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chaplin Stands Out

The other night, I watched a few of Chaplin's early comedies. These comedies, which are little more than improvised slapstick, are mostly unfunny, but Chaplin was occasionally able to take a small bit of business and make something special out of it.

In The New Janitor (1914), Chaplin takes the position of janitor at an office. At his introduction, Chaplin picks up the wastepaper basket the wrong way and a trail of crumbled paper spills out on the floor behind him. Before leaving the office, he puts his finger to his chin and curtseys out of respect to the manager. This business may not seem like much now, but it was subtle and clever compared to the roughhouse comedy prevalent at the time.
Those Love Pangs (1914) features Chaplin as a masher in the park. A man, enraged to catch Chaplin trying to pick up his girlfriend, grabs Chaplin, shouts at him, and repeatedly shoves him. One hard shove puts Chaplin off balance, nearly causing him to topple backwards and fall into a lake, but, before Chaplin can fall, the boyfriend pulls him back from the brink to shout at him further. The boyfriend then shoves Chaplin again, Chaplin nearly falls into the lake again, and the boyfriend pulls him forward again. This pattern keeps being repeated until Chaplin suddenly steps aside, hooks the man with his cane and pulls him forward into the lake. This routine, with its playful design, is funnier than simply having one comedian kick another comedian into the lake, which is what audiences were accustomed to seeing at the time.

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