Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Tramp

A Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) is on the road when he rescues a farmer’s daughter (Edna Purviance) from thieves out to steal her money. As a reward the Tramp is taken in and offered work by Edna’s father (Ernest Van Pelt). On the farm the Tramp is asked to halt a second attempt by the criminals and ends up in a love triangle.

This was Chaplin’s 6th Essanay film and the first I had seen before watching the studios output in full. It marks the first time that the Tramp is seen fully formed although Chaplin had played the character before. Here the tramp is a much more rounded character and although he still looks out for number one he is more inclined to help others and in fact ends up leaving the farm so that he doesn’t get in the way of Edna and her boyfriend. This is a quite different Tramp from say In the Park and The Champion.

The humour is much less slapstick that in previous Essanay films although it is still there. It feels cleverer and more nuanced than the likes of doors opening on people’s faces in His New Job. A highlight for me was when Chaplin trips over a kerb and doffs his hat in apology even though the kerb is an inanimate object and it was his fault. Another highlight was Chaplin’s attempts at milking a cow. After placing the bucket and turning away thinking the cow needed to ‘go to the bathroom’ a confused Chaplin tries pumping the tail like at a gas station before stealing a full bucket from elsewhere. Although this comedy is cleverer than some of his previous output there is still slapstick to be found. In the opening scene the Tramp is nearly run over and does a pirouette before falling head over heels and when on the farm a pitchfork comes out which creates numerous forks in bum gags.

Another slight change from his previous form is the constant breaking of the forth wall. This is something that Chaplin did often during his career but is done constantly here. Sometimes it is to let us in on a joke while at other times Chaplin looks at us as if to say “look at this, what am I doing?” or words to that effect. The film is also tinted blue in certain scenes to depict night. This is something which Chaplin hadn’t really used before but was very popular during the period.

This is a film which is more story focussed than much of Chaplin’s previous work and as a result has a slower pace and fewer laughs. I don’t think this is a problem though and it shows Chaplin’s development as a film maker. He isn’t afraid to make us wait for the laughs and is interested in developing a story and characters rather than finding something to fall over or someone to hit in the face. It also features an ending which is not entirely happy and this is something that even today raises eyebrows but works very well and helps to further flesh out the character of The Tramp.


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