Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Charlie Chaplin - The Essanay Films


Just a year after his screen debut and after he had earned his chops with Keystone, Charlie Chaplin had become one of the biggest stars in the new medium of film. After appearing in 36 films for Keystone, Chaplin moved on to the Essanay Film Company having received an offer of $1,250 a week and a promise that he could write and direct all of his own films.

Essanay had been formed in Chicago in 1907 by George K Spoor and Gilbert M Anderson who took their surname initials of S and A to form the name Essanay. Anderson was himself an actor and director and became famous under the pseudonym Broncho Billy. He also had a role in the first ever Western, the now highly regarded The Great Train Robbery. In search of better shooting locations for his Westerns, Anderson travelled with a small crew to California where he eventually set up a studio in Niles, CA. Chaplin shot his first Essanay picture at the Chicago studio but being unimpressed with the conditions subsequently produced the rest of his films at the Niles studio.


In total Chaplin made 14 films for Essanay between February 1915 and May 1916. Although today these films are not generally considered to be amongst his best, they were produced at a time when Chaplin went from being a star to the world’s first movie super star and show the development of his craft. They also introduced Chaplin to Edna Purviance who over a span of eight years appeared in more than thirty of his films. Chaplin’s Essanay films were more coherent and less frenetic than his Keystone pictures and featured greater character development. Not everything was well inside Essanay though. Chaplin had a fraught relationship with fellow Essanay star Ben Turpin and despite working well together on screen; Turpin appeared in only a couple of Chaplin’s films. When Chaplin left the company in 1916 it caused a rift between the two founders and the company eventually collapsed in 1920.

I will be watching each of Chaplin’s Essanay films in order and writing a brief summary and critique which I’ll link to below. Also, The Charlie Chaplin Film Club have also very kindly compiled my reviews here.

1. His New Job  3/5
2. A Night Out 2/5
3. The Champion 4/5
4. In the Park 3/5
5. A Jitney Elopement 4/5
6. The Tramp 4/5
7. By the Sea 2/5
8. Work 2/5
9. A Woman 2/5
10. The Bank 5/5
11. Shanghaied 2/5
12. His Regeneration 2/5
13. A Night in the Show 4/5
14. Burlesque on Carmen 4/5
15. Police 3/5
16. Triple Trouble 1/5

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