Friday, 8 June 2012

A Jitney Elopement

Edna (Edna Purviance) has been betrothed to a rich Count by her father (Ernest Van Pelt) but she already has a secret love, The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin). Edna persuades her love to save her and he impersonates the Count at tea with Edna and her father. Once the Count (Leo White) turns up with his fantastical facial hair The Tramp is thrown out. Later in a park the foursome come together again and the two young lovers attempt to elope in an act that brings about a prolonged car chase.

There are two very distinct halves to this film and I believe that the first half is amongst Chaplin’s best Essanay work to date. Having come off In the Park which was fast and a little bit messy, the first half of A Jitney Elopement was surprisingly slow, calm and more reminiscent of his later feature films. The second half though features a full on frenetic car chase which takes place in and around San Francisco and makes this Chaplin’s most sprawling film to date. The title incidentally comes from the type of vehicle that the couple attempt to run away in – a kind of shared taxi.

I have to say that although this is one of Chaplin’s less well received Essanay films, I really enjoyed it. It shows the two sides to Chaplin; the slow, methodical craftsman and the fast paced clown and both halves made me laugh. I do prefer the first half however. It’s a joy to try and watch The Tramp fit in to unfamiliar circumstances and he gets up to the usual nonsense including using a butler as a cloak stand and dropping sugar cubes into his soup. Later in the chase scene we get to see various parts of San Francisco and its surrounding areas and this is interesting in its own right. The roads are mostly made of mud and the whole are is very sparse. The cars themselves are barely recognisable as cars and Chaplin’s especially looks like a cross between a carriage and some sort of 19th century coffee machine.

Although Chaplin was under pressure from Essanay to speed up his output and sometimes the quality of his films suffered I don’t think that is the case here. Yes the chase is a little bit too Keystone for Chaplin but he shows that he can still formulate great ideas and execute them well in a short time frame and A Jitney Elopement is a clever and funny effort.         


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