Slapstick Encyclopedia, Volume 8: Chaplin and the Music Hall Tradition

Welcome to the eighth installment of TMP’s Slapstick Encyclopedia series! Today we’re finishing up the fourth disc with “Chaplin and the Music Hall Tradition.”

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

A Night in the Show (1915)
Directed by: Chaplin
Starring: Chaplin
Run time: 25 minutes, 31 seconds (originally 30 minutes)
This film stars Charlie Chaplin, recreating one of his vaudeville roles – “The Inebriate.” He plays a dual role here as “Mr. Pest” and “Mr. Rowdy.” What fun to see him play two such different characters in the same film! “Pest” is uptight but careless, disregarding those around him completely. “Rowdy,” on the other hand, doesn’t have an attitude quite as disgruntled as “Pest” — but is just as obnoxious as his counterpart to the people sitting near (especially below) him. Chaplin is a real delight to watch, with his genius already showing itself in 1915. His performance brings the large majority of the laughs in this short feature.

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

A Rare Chaplin Snippet (1916)
This is a little candid clip of Chaplin goofing off. He’s following no story and the viewer has no context for his character. The introduction to the clip states that it was likely filmed at a personal appearance he made in New York in 1916, accounting for the year that’s been attributed to the clip. This is one of the coolest clips inclusions in the Slapstick Encyclopedia set, because Charlie’s hilarious even though we have no clue what he’s doing.

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

The Rink (1916)
Directed by: Chaplin
Starring: Chaplin and Edna Purviance
Run time: 30 minutes
The Encyclopedia’s introduction to this film states that “By the middle of 1915, Charlie Chaplin’s second year in the movies, there was a clearly identified ‘Chaplin Craze’ going on.” He signed with Mutual the next year. This film is one of his Mutual comedies, based on a music hall sketch. There are a couple of great gags in this film — one scene has waiter Chaplin dropping eggs on his customers from what appears to be a taxidermy chicken, and laughing hysterically afterward. As expected since this is based on a sketch called “Skating,” there are a couple of very funny falls as well. Overall, a good watch. Chaplin’s always fun and this film is no exception.

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Live Wires and Love Sparks (1916)
Directed by: Henry Lehrman
Starring: Billie Ritchie, Peggy Pearce and Eva Nelson
Run time: 25 minutes (original — the print here is shorter)
The introduction to this film points to Billie Ritchie as “one of the first Chaplin imitators,” while Ritchie claimed that Chaplin had stolen from his music hall routines. Some of the film has been lost, so the Encyclopedia’s version runs shorter than the original running time, but at least it’s been partially preserved. Though the introduction focuses on Ritchie, what I really enjoyed about this film was the supporting performances, particularly from the ladies. Peggy Pearce in particular has a strong screen presence and I’d like to explore her filmography further.

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

He’s In Again (1918)
Directed by: Charley Chase
Starring: Billy West and Oliver Hardy
Run time: 24 minutes
The introduction to this film includes a great quote from Harold Lloyd regarding Chaplin’s fame: “Unless you wore funny clothes and otherwise aped him you were not a comedian. Exhibitors who could not get the original demanded imitations — and were given them in number from brazen counterfeits to coy skirtings about the Chaplin manner.” This film stars one of those imitators, Billy West, who the introduction states was once congratulated by Chaplin for doing such a great job of imitating him. West certainly does seem fully dedicated to out-Chaplining Chaplin. While he doesn’t quite match Charlie he does have the mannerisms down pretty dang well, which makes this film hilarious to watch throughout most of its 24 minutes.

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Pie-Eyed (1925)
Directed by: Percy Pembroke and Joe Rock
Starring: Stan Laurel, Glen Cavender and Thelma Hill
Run time: 18 minutes
“One of the first of the Chaplin imitators was Chaplin’s own music hall understudy, Arthur Stanley Jefferson, who was working under the name Stan Laurel when he entered movies in 1917,” reads the introduction to Pie-Eyed. This film shows not a Chaplin imitation from Laurel, but a fairly standard performance as a music hall drunkard. There are a number of laughs but they’re all from gags that are to be expected in a film about a man who’s hit the booze a little too hard — stumbling, breaking things, getting himself into a bit of trouble. The scene where Laurel dances with the boss’s wife is the most enjoyable bit.

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Only Me (1929)
Directed by: Lupino Lane
Starring: Lupino Lane and Wallace Lupino
Run time: 15 minutes
Lupino Lane tackles what the Encyclopedia’s intro calls a “time-honored tradition”: the show-within-a-show. This is an interesting little watch, oftentimes amusing but not hilariously funny. The “show-within-a-show” element is well-constructed, with various sketches taking place on stage while just-as-entertaining scenarios occur between audience members.

3 thoughts on “Slapstick Encyclopedia, Volume 8: Chaplin and the Music Hall Tradition

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