A waiter (Charlie Chaplin) gets into trademark mischief at work and then goes to a skating rink on his lunch break. There he meets a pretty girl (Edna Purviance) and the two of them hit it off. The waiter has a confrontation though with a customer (Eric Campbell) who recognises him from the restaurant and the two start bickering and fighting while skating. Having left the rink, the girl invites the waiter to her skating party that night but instead of revealing his real job he tells her that he is Sir Cecil Seltzer. Later, at the party, people who had met during the day once again meet up as various strands of the story come together, resulting in a fast paced chase ending.
I was a little bored by the first half of this film which was set mainly in a restaurant, but my enjoyment grew as the action turned to the rink. There Chaplin was able to showcase his remarkable skating skills and ability to bully his co star Eric Campbell in an ever changing variety of ways. The second half more than makes up for the lacklustre opening and left me with a smile on my face if not a laughter induced stomach ache.
Although not incredibly funny, the restaurant scene does have some good jokes. The best of these was saved right until the end of the scene when Chaplin is leaving for lunch and takes his hat, coat and cane from the oven where he has been storing them. It’s totally unexpected. Another laugh came from Chaplin’s reaction to an obese woman (Henry Bergman) coming to the restaurant. He thinks for a moment, trying to decide how best to seat her before ripping the arm rests of the chair so that it may better accommodate her large size. Apart from that, the trademark confusion in the kitchen and fight with a co-worker felt a little tired. Chaplin had done it all many times before. A great bit of comic ‘business’ at the rink involved Chaplin making his hat appear as though it was levitating above his head to impress a woman. This is a trick Chaplin used throughout his career but it looks great here. His cheeky grin furthers the humour.
One of the positives with this film is the plot. Chaplin manages several characters with intertwining plots before bringing them together for the climax. It’s quite sophisticated and shows vast improvement of plot and character design from just the year before. I can’t imagine one of Chaplin’s Essanay's ever having such a complex plot. For a while I was a bit confused as to where he was going with all of the characters but was pleasantly surprised when almost everyone we met in the first half came back in some form for the climax. What the film is perhaps best remembered for now though is Chaplin’s remarkable skill with skates. It’s a joy to watch him slide gracefully around the rink, twisting and turning around other people, skating on one leg and managing to maintain his balance at seemingly impossible angles. It looks sublime. The skating and fact that Chaplin plays a waiter also reminded me of Modern Times which features both those things. Although that is a much better film, the skating is a lot better here.
Something else that caught my eye was one particular shot. Late on Eric Campbell is at the party when he sees his wife there too. Neither knows that the other will be there for reasons which I won’t spoil. What caught my eye was
reaction and the shot that Chaplin uses to capture it. Chaplin uses an extreme
close-up, showing only Campbell ’s
face as his eyes roll around in his head. It was unusual for the director to
use such close-up shots at this period in his career but it worked really well
to show off the reaction and Campbell ’s
funny face. Campbell
Overall The Rink has some very memorable moments and features a few laughs but isn’t as funny as I’d like it to have been. The lack of comedy is made up though with Chaplin’s skating and a much better plot than some of its contemporary comedies.