Monday, 27 August 2012

One A.M.

Charlie Chaplin’s forth film for the Mutual Film Company is a unique two reeler in which he is almost the only person on screen for the film’s entirety. Apart from an establishing scene featuring Albert Austin as a disgruntled cab driver, Chaplin has the film to himself as he struggles to get up to bed whilst drunk. Chaplin arrives home at 1am to find numerous inanimate objects in his way in his quest for a nights sleep.

In this twenty-six minute short a drunken Chaplin is scared by stuffed animals, baffled by a revolving table, constantly defeated by a flight of stairs before being bested by a fold away bed. Chaplin takes inspiration from the drunken character that made him famous in England with the Fred Karno Company, the very same character that drew the attention of Mack Sennett and gave him his break in the movie industry.

The genius of this film comes from Chaplin’s ability to keep on finding objects to hamper his attempts to get to bed when you think he won’t be able to find anything else. Sometimes you will think he has done all he can with a particular object before going back to it several minutes later. This is the case with the revolving table in the middle of the room. Having chased his whisky around it early on in the film, the actor comes back to it later on in a brilliant scene in which he climbs upon the table and chases after the oil lamp hanging from the ceiling in order to light his cigarette. This was an excellent idea which actually made me feel a little dizzy. Another item which Chaplin constantly goes back to is the stairs. It takes him around ten or so attempts to actually get upstairs, each time being thrown back down due to loss of balance or bumping into something. The way he finally gets up is wonderfully surreal and clever.

One thing I noticed about the stairs was how cushioned they looked. It was obvious that there was a lot of padding beneath the carpet and the rug at the bottom also resembled more of a crash mat than thin rug. It’s not surprising that Chaplin chose to give himself a little padding given the number of times he came cascading down the stairs and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t more than a little bruised by the end of filming. In a later scene I actually flinched when a bed stand came crashing down close to his head at high speed. One small misjudgement in positioning and he could have been seriously injured. Although Buster Keaton gets a lot of credit as being the daredevil of the silent comedians, this film shows that Chaplin wasn’t afraid to perform dangerous stunts himself.

My favourite scene in the film came late on when Chaplin finally finds his bed. This scene typifies Chaplin’s comedy for me. While most comedians may be able to find one or two funny things to do with a collapsing bed, Chaplin takes over five minutes to play around with ideas, each one funnier than the last. Every time he did something new I thought to myself “Right, well that’s it. There’s nothing more that can be done with that”, but each time I was wrong until we get to a fantastic payoff at the end. I loved the collapsing bed scene so much that I actually got my girlfriend (someone who likes Chaplin films when she sees them but otherwise isn’t too fussed) to watch it with me a second time. In the end I actually showed her about two thirds of the film and she laughed even more than I did. I even heard her cry “Oh no, his hat!” Then she went back to watching Britain’s Next Top Model though so you win some, you lose some.

One A.M. is a film that really surprised me. I was unsure how this one man show could keep the laughs coming but if anything it gets funnier as it goes along. While it doesn’t contain the depth of his later work or even the proceeding film The Vagabond, it is a master class in comic timing and also shows off Chaplin’s underrated stunt skills.    


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