The start of an icon … a legend … and the very first Hollywood-actor to become world famous!
Charlie Chaplin. Who doesn’t know him? Or at least recognize his all too familiar outfit? Surely, everyone at some point in their lives has heard of ‘the tramp’ or seen pictures of him. That bowler hat, his bamboo cane and his short, toothbrush mustache.
I bet you didn’t know Adolf Hitler had his mustache made just like Charlie Chaplin because he was such a huge fan of his early works. That changed though when Charlie Chaplin made a fool out of him in the 1940-classic comedy The Great Dictator, around the time World War II was about to kick off.
You don’t believe me? Check out this old photo when Hitler was a promising young soldier during the first World War. Check out the mustache, man!
Anyway, back to the lighter side of things.
Much like Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe after him, Charlie Chaplin will never go away. His influence in movies is far too important. There isn’t a comedy actor working today who hasn’t benefited from the classic works of this man, this legend, this greatest of greatest examples in terms of acting and even directing.
Because, make no mistake, Charlie Chaplin was also a director. And a producer. But above all things, a perfectionist … a visionary artist and yes … a very difficult person to work with also. It was either his way or no way! But then again, was there anyone better than Charlie Chaplin in the early days?
The count (1916)
It’s funny how Charlie Chaplin in his early days always used to work with the same people. Especially Edna Purviance and Eric Campbell are two familiar faces that wounded up in every single one of Charlie Chaplin‘s short movies. Amazingly enough, these two talented actors also ended up playing the same kind of characters through and through.
Edna Purviance was always the beautiful girl distress who usually becomes the love interest of the tramp by the end of the movie. Eric Campbell, the tall heavyweight, was always the right man for the job to play the muscle or the bad guy everyone feared. If you think about it, this neat little triangle of love would become the thin red line throughout most of Chaplin‘s earliest short movies. The tramp as the hero, the bulky tall guy as the antagonist and in the middle of it all: the beautiful girl just waiting to be saved.
In the short movie The Count this successful formula was once again recycled into a new storyline. Charlie the tramp is fired from his job as an assistant-tailor after burning half a dozen trousers and ends up joining a dinner party where he once again fights Eric Campbell for the hand of the beautiful lady, Edna Purviance. Both he and the big guy cheat their way into the dinner party by introducing themselves as Count Broko, but when the real count makes an appearance, that’s when the ball starts rolling.
Although the movie doesn’t have as many great jokes as some of Charlie Chaplin‘s earlier or latter work, the short movie never bores. It’s never properly explained how the tramp came to be at the dinner party in the first place which makes his entire entrance and presence a bit of an overstatement, but once he starts dancing in the ballroom or fighting off a few policemen and annoying house guests with that intriguing, typical-clumsy fighting style of his, that’s when you sink deeper into your chair and simply enjoy the humor of it all …
The vagabond (1916)
The Vagabond is one of Charlie Chaplin‘s most important and influential short movies, because it showed that Charlie Chaplin wasn’t just all about jokes and gangs. Surely, there’s a lot of laughter to be had, but the main part of the story is pure drama.
The movie tells the story of a street musician who ends up saving a young girl from a band of gypsies. If you know that the girl is beating with a whip and used as a slave, then you know that the premise of this short movie is much darker than any of Charlie Chaplin‘s prior work.
But surprisingly enough – or not, because the man is a force of nature – the dangerous mixture of dark drama and clownesque slapstick works beautifully. So much so in fact that The Vagabond is often considered a stepping stone for Charlie Chaplin‘s greater classics, such as The Kid & City Lights, which also combine social drama-textures with a sense of childlike humor.
Not to worry though, because there’s still plentiful of laughs to go around. It’s just that this particular short movie also takes its time to tell an actual story that matters …
The fireman (1916)
As much as The Vagabond is a serious short movie with a few well-placed laughs, The Fireman is Charlie Chaplin going all out with slapstick humor. There is no serious story – even though a guy’s house is on fire – and the firemen themselves are about as helpless as the victim who’s about to lose his house. But even with so many jokes in the movie, The Fireman never seems to get it right. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not particularly good either.
Many characters are running around aimlessly and shouting at each other or slapping each other in the face, but it all seems so pointless. Without a proper story or reason why, it all feels so empty and meaningless. It’s funny, yes, but the jokes don’t always seem to work. As a result, The Fireman is a bit of a letdown and one of the weakest short movies Charlie Chaplin has ever made, proving that even the greatest one in the business can stumble sometimes.
Fortunately, the end of the movie makes it all better. It shows just how much of an athlete Charlie Chaplin was. Remember, in those days, there were no computer graphics … everything was done live on the set. And Charlie Chaplin never depended on stuntmen. He did his own stunts …
Behind the screen 1916)
Also slapstick but much, much better than The Fireman – and in fact one of the funniest short movies Charlie Chaplin would make altogether – is Behind the Screen. The movie tells the story of the tramp working as a set dresser on a movie, but he seems to be the only one doing the hard labor. In return, his tyrannical boss and the foreman are constantly weighing him down, ultimately resulting in fun chaos. There’s a wonderful pie throwing scene, there’s an even better sequence of Charlie Chaplin in charge of a lever that opens up a part of the floor – I don’t need to tell you that things will go terribly wrong there – and the best moment is undoubtedly when the tramp has to move a pillar all by himself.
Behind the Screen successfully incorporates fresh jokes with a simple yet effective storyline that’ll keep you entangled to the very end of the movie. Speaking of which, if you like unexpected endings, take a peek at this movie. The entire studio will blow up and Charlie the tramp doesn’t even raise an eyebrow.
As things go in these type of short movies, Edna Purviance plays the beautiful girl who needs help and Eric Campbell plays the mean bad guy.
The immigrant (1917)
Charlie Chaplin knew better than anyone how to turn a sad thing of the real world into a long-running gag that had people forget their problems. Social topics like poverty or the lone hero protecting an innocent girl or any other kind of injustice were elements that would always dictate his stories one way or the other.
The Immigrant tells the story of the tramp making his way into the land of hopes and dreams, which is America. Like millions of immigrants before and after him, the voyage isn’t a pleasant one, but multi-talented as Charlie Chaplin is, this short movie doesn’t care about all that and shows you a short yet invigorating adventure.
This movie is easily one of this best short movies as it’s funny from beginning to end, most especially when the tramp tries to keep his footing when the boat rocks up and down. The dinner scene alone is a straight-classic comedy moment that has influenced thousands if not millions of filmmakers and artists.
Check out the beauty who becomes the love interest of the tramp. She is Edna Purviance and not only a fine actress but one to return in many of Charlie Chaplin‘s short movies.
The adventurer (1917)
If you had to make a top 5 or top 10 of the very best short movies ever made by Charlie Chaplin, then The Adventurer would have to be in it! It’s not just funny, it’s hilarious. The first time the tramp pop up is out of the sand … with his head … facing a gun against his nose. Brilliant, just brilliant!
Although the title doesn’t do much justice to the story – after all, our beloved hero isn’t so much an adventurer as he’s a prison escapee – no worries, he ultimately becomes the hero. He saves two women from drowning (the beautiful girl first of course, what’d you think?) and when invited to a high-party, he shakes things up a little with some very pleasant goofiness.
As usual, you’ll be staggered by how athletic and agile the actor is. If you didn’t know better, you’d think he was the very first Cirque du Soleil-artist to ever become world famous. He isn’t though … Charlie Chaplin is just a perfectionist.
The funniest scene is either the chase by a couple of bumbling police officers and the tramp or the havoc he creates at the swank party. If you wanna check out Charlie Chaplin-short movies, this is a good one to start with!
The cure (1917)
Just because a movie is classic doesn’t always make it great. The Cure isn’t one of Charlie Chaplin‘s brightest movies although labeling it as weak or unfunny would be a tad too harsh. The movie is quite okay and there’s a few jokes that work, but overall you don’t get the same sense of nonsense as before. Maybe it has to do with the fact that some jokes take too long, like the bit with the revolving doors. Maybe it’s because this little short movie is one of the few where we don’t get to see his classic character, the tramp. Which is not to say Charlie Chaplin doesn’t bode well as a drunk. As soon as he checks himself into a health spa, things take a turn for the worse, or should I say, for the funny.
You’ll see the most aggressive massage anyone has ever had to endure and the entire hotel staff as well as every single guest goes ape-shit drunk when they drink from the fountain water which had been turned into an alcoholic liquor source after someone carelessly threw some open bottles of wine into the basin.
Not super-funny by far, but still good enough to check it out if you like slapstick …
Easy street (1917)
Easy Street tells the story of how the tramp becomes a police officer – after all, the doesn’t have any money, so any job will suffice – only to discover that he is assigned to the worst street in the neighborhood, absurdly named ‘Easy street’. There the tramp has to face off against a huge thug who dominates the streets and pretty much everyone else in it. But the tramp wouldn’t be the tramp if he didn’t come up with a clever solution.
The short movie isn’t the best, but it’s still full of giggles and fun. Especially the performance by actor Eric Campbell – who was nearly two meters or more than six feet five tall!! – is very exhilarating to watch. Not only was this man a steady actor in most of Charlie Chaplin‘s earliest short movies, but apart from his height (which was huge for that day and age), he was also a very experienced stage performer with a face that was made to be in the movies.
More to follow …