Charlie Chaplin as his Tramp character is asleep outside a Mission, close to the danger filled and lawless Easy Street. After being partially reformed by the Mission where he meets a beautiful young woman (Edna Purviance), the Tramp decides to join the Police and is immediately sent out on the beat to Easy Street, a road from where Police return battered and bruised. Through luck and wit the new Policeman tries to reform the street and return it to the local residents.
Comedy wise this is probably the most disappointing of Chaplin’s Mutual Films that I’ve seen so far. In the entire film I only laughed out loud once and generally there were very few funny moments anywhere. What the film does contain though is another tender story about overcoming the odds, hard work, temperance and love which is something that Chaplin was becoming the master of at this stage of his career.
Easy Street itself looks to be modelled on the sort of South London streets that Chaplin would have grown up on himself. They don’t look very American to me and it’s only when a late chase takes us outside of the confines of Easy Street that it becomes obvious that we are in America. Like much of Chaplin’s work, Easy Street is routed in a Dickensian world that predates film altogether. The crime and violence on Easy Street may well have been a satirical response to pre Prohibition America where if history is to be believed the masses drank until they passed out or were knocked out. The saving grace of the Policeman and the Christian Mission is very appropriate to the era.
What is nice about Easy Street is that Chaplin’s character is without selfishness. In many of his early films he was the reluctant hero or came to be the hero through mistake or after he had attempted to con or rip people off. Easy Street shows a further departure from this and towards his later incarnation as the victim/underdog of his future films. It’s a shame that in Easy Street though Chaplin wasn’t able to balance the character, story and comedy and that the latter suffers. The basis of an excellent film is in place but like most people I watch a Charlie Chaplin film to laugh and I didn’t do that in this film.