The first in a two-part series on “Chaplin at Keystone” (read the first part here).
Charlie Chaplin‘s first solo directorial effort, Caught in the Rain, is an inauspicious one. It starts off as another comedy in the “day at the park” subgenre. Alice Davenport flirts with Charlie after her husband, Mack Swain, walks off on an errand. Compromising positions follow, of course, taken straight from Keystone founder Mack Sennett ‘s gag assembly line. Sennett himself directed the next six Chaplin shorts.
A Busy Day features Charlie in drag, trying to disrupt a parade in a shameless rip-off of his previous Kid Auto Races At Venice. A Fatal Mallet also stars Sennett (a rare appearance, and for good reason—his acting is more uneven than his directing) fighting with Charlie over girly girl Mabel. They are both dull Sennett products exhibiting little craftsmanship or art.
The Knockout is a half hour long, an epic for Keystone. It is basically a Fatty Arbuckle boxing vehicle with Charlie coming between prize fighter Fatty and Edgar Kennedy. Chaplin’s ballet-like brand of slapstick (barely) salvages the film, and The Knockout again makes it abundantly clear why Chaplin quickly outshone his peers.
Mabel’s Busy Day is an eccentric step up. Mabel is the much put upon, unkempt hot dog vendor at a race track. Charlie, as a dandy, arrives amidst much shenanigans, including dance-like slapstick with some Keystone Kops. Charlie spies the patrons abusing poor Mabel. He comforts her and, when her back is turned, he steals her hardware to go into business for himself, with predictably disastrous results. Chaplin here is without sympathy, even if he ends up as abused as the girl he himself abused and, realizing what she has been put through, finds enough pity for her to accompany her through the iris out. Again, the odd chemistry between Charlie and Mabel inexplicably works, although Chaplin would find more apt female counterparts later in his career.
“Laughing Gas” (1914, unrestored)
Chaplin co-wrote Mabel’s Married Life with Norman and, although Sennett officially directed, it is moving towards the style film historians will later term “Chaplinesque”; it is easily the best of the Sennett-directed Chaplin Keystones. Charlie and Mabel are a married couple out on a Sunday promenade in the park. Charlie grudgingly shares his banana with the Mrs. He momentarily steps into an inn, which gives Mack Swain ample opportunity to stop and flirt with Mabel. The Continue reading CHAPLIN AT KEYSTONE, PART TWO