Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010: The Chaplin Revue

In an attempt to broaden my experience with Charlie Chaplin and to catch up with my film watching (reaching 365 films seems less doable as each day passes), I decided to watch a bunch of shorts released as The Chaplin Revue.

#69. A Dog's Life (1918)

I wasn't sure what to expect from a Chaplin short; would it be as funny, as well thought through and wonderful? Here, the Little Tramp not only finds himself living like a dog, but also feels sorry for and adopts a pup he finds on the street. Humour ensues as he tries to smuggle the dog around in his pants while courting a beautiful young singer, and outsmarts two thieves in the process. A Dog's Life proves that even in a short film, Chaplin is still charming and his stories are still full of laughs, gags, and heart. It's a great start to the Revue, and I'd recommend it for sure.

#70. Shoulder Arms (1918)

This film seems to trod along the line of the Tramp's stories very well. It's not particularly special, though the tree trunk episode is quite good, but it definitely suits the rest of Chaplin's work. In it, Chaplin is a young army recruit during WWI who volunteers to don a tree suit and attack the enemies from behind their own lines; he meets a young French woman and later manages some pretty outstanding military feats. Though there wasn't a whole lot to make this one stand out among a crowd, it still feels like a little piece of Chaplin home.

#71. The Pilgrim (1923)

At an hour long, this one is almost a little lengthy to be called a short film, but like most (or all, depending on your view) of Chaplin's films it's certainly worth your while. One of my favourite aspects of a Chaplin film is the way he incorporates really good story lines with the gags and jokes. Really, it's what makes Chaplin, Chaplin. In The Pilgrim, he plays an escaped convict who disguises himself as a new pastor about to arrive at the town church. Of course, hilarity commences. I particularly liked the end and its political and cultural implications, though I don't want to ruin it so I'll let you discover it for yourself.

#72. A Day's Pleasure (1919)

Considering my last review, it's interesting that A Day's Pleasure is heavily dependent on gags and slap-stick to entertain, as opposed to an engaging story. In it, Chaplin plays a father taking his family out on a day trip, and most of the humour comes from incidents with the unknown. Seasickness and a collapsible chair provide momentary distraction, though these sequences aren't as funny as others might have been. At times it feels like the film was thought out and filmed in a couple days, though it's quality would suggest that even if this were the case, Chaplin has a better creative mind than most of today's comedians. I wouldn't say it's any better or worse than The Pilgrim, it's just lighter and more of a fun 20ish minute romp than anything else.

#73. Sunnyside (1919)

Most of this film is spent going back and forth between the real world and the romantic dreams of a farm boy (Chaplin). As he tries to win the heart of a young woman in town, a man from the city comes and captures it, leaving the young farm hand to pine and think of ways to win her back. It's not the most engrossing film, but it's enjoyable. There seemed to be hints of Chaplin's City Lights in this one, especially in the way he courts the young woman he loves. I also like the ambiguity of the ending, not knowing if the boy has succeeded in winning her heart, or if it was all a dream.

#74. The Idle Class (1921)

The concept of this story was definitely one of my favourites out of the Revue. The Tramp is unassumingly mistaken for the wealthy husband of an upper class woman at a costume party; the woman is far more pleased with the character of the Tramp and is happy at the change in her drunken husband's demeanour. Of course the whole thing is revealed to be a mistake in the end, but for a few confused hours the Tramp lives the life of the upper class.

One of my favourite gags in the whole thing, one that the beloved store manager Chris also mentioned to me, takes place after the rich husband reads a letter from his wife, saying: "I am taking up other quarters until you rid yourself of your drinking habit." He turns, sobbing, his body shaking with remorse; that is, at least, until he faces the camera again and you discover that he's not upset, but he's shaking himself a martini. It might even be my favourite of all Charlie Chaplin's gags. Clever, simple and brilliant.

#75. Pay Day (1922)

The last of the short films might be my favourite Chaplin film, or at least my favourite Chaplin short. There are enough funny moments in this to fill a feature length film without getting bored, and Chaplin in his genius puts them so close together that I couldn't stop chuckling for nearly half an hour. The best sequence has to be the one that takes place while Chaplin's poor labouring class man is on lunch break. As the small construction elevator next to him rises and falls, his non-existent lunch becomes more and more delicious, while his boss's is diminished to hammers and red-hot metal.

The charming nature of the poor man's luck and bad luck is what always gets me with Chaplin films. In this one, he never expects to eat lunch, but it suddenly pops into his life by chance. Upon his drunken return home, he discovers his angry wife asleep with a rolling pin. He crawls into the bathtub to sleep instead, only to discover that it's filled with water, and decides to stay in it anyway.

If you only want to check out a few shorts, at least take a look at this one, A Dog's Life, and The Idle Class. They're a great way to introduce yourself to one of comedy's greatest filmmakers, especially if you're not accustomed to silent film.

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