Charlie Chaplin’s 1917 short film The Immigrant features Chaplin’s Tramp character aboard a ship to America and later penniless on a New York street before a final set piece in a restaurant. Along the way he meets Edna Purviance, also an immigrant, and the two strike up a relationship.
The film’s most enduring scene features The Tramp and other immigrants being herded like animals and cordoned off as they arrive in
. During this scene, Chaplin kicks an immigration officer, something which was later held against him when he was accused of Communism and anti-American sentiment during the McCarthy era. America
|The immigrants corralled by the authorities in an overtly political scene|
Although only twenty minutes long, the film features some tremendous sight gags and stage direction and Chaplin’s Tramp is a fully formed character by this point in his career. The makeup is also fantastic. I am a big fan of the white face/dark eye makeup of early cinema. Another area where the film is superb is in its direction and cinematography. Despite being fairly new to moving pictures, Chaplin’s mastery of the camera is clear to see. This is especially so in a scene in set aboard the boat featuring the whole cast eating soup in which Chaplin slides across a slippery floor as the ship rocks from side to side. Suspense is built towards the end of the film when The Tramp after seeing a man beaten for being 10c short on his bill, realises he has lost his money. His attempts to find money and or escape while under the watchful eye of a burly waiter are comic genius.
On the downside some of the scenes on the ship are a bit stale. These were actually filmed later than the final scenes as the film was written and performed as and when Chaplin came up with the ideas. The card game was boring but it did allow Chaplin to give Purviance’s character his winnings, thus introducing himself to her. I unfortunately watched a 1946 print of the film which contained some very annoying sound effects associated with the era. By the 40s with silent films long out of fashion, many earlier silent films had annoying sound effects added to them to give them a more up to date feel. This almost ruined the film for me. Most of the effects appear to have been produced using kazoos and slide whistles and are unnecessary and irritating. I also have a feeling that the film was lacking its original score. It’s a good idea to try and source early films without added sound effects and with their original musical accompaniment.
For Chaplin fans, this film is a must watch, however if you only have a passing interest in him or the films of the era then perhaps you’d be better off searching out the kick scene on YouTube.The film can be watched for free on YouTube here.