Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Pawnshop

Charlie Chaplin’s sixth film for Mutual is one with very high highs and disappointingly low lows. It features a scenario and story which doesn’t really go anywhere but also features several moments of slapstick that are amongst his best to date.

Chaplin stars as a pawnshop assistant and gets in a long running fight with fellow employee John Rand. Typically inept at his job, Chaplin is eventually fired only to be taken back on straight away after his boss Henry Bergman has a change of heart. Meanwhile Chaplin’s attentions are drawn to Bergman’s daughter Edna Purviance who is busy baking in the back of the shop. Trouble appears late on as a thief, Eric Campbell enters the shop intent on taking it for everything it’s got.

As I mentioned the plot is a little basic here. There is no character development and the romantic component is only hinted at. Where the film is successful is with its slapstick elements. Two areas stand out for me. The first is Chaplin’s long fight with John Rand. Chaplin portrays a peculiar but extremely funny fighting style and his character in general looks like he’s off his head on something. The standout though is while the fight is happening; Edna Purviance hears the ruckus and comes to investigate. Although Chaplin is beating Rand to a pulp, when he hears Edna approaching he falls to the floor and into a foetal position, faking pain. Edna immediately starts yelling at Rand for hitting the poor, defenceless Chaplin and while she does so Chaplin repeatedly checks out her bum and turns to the camera with a cheeky grin on his face. It’s a fantastic scene.

Other great moments include Chaplin being ordered to wash up and putting the crockery through a mangle and a scene in which he values a clock by taking it to pieces, destroying it and then turning it down as it’s broken. Moments like these remind me just how inventive and clever Chaplin was capable of being with his comedy. It’s just a shame here in The Pawnshop that the comedy isn’t coupled with a more impressive plot.   

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