Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Adventurer

Chaplin’s final film in his Mutual contract and marking the end of a brief but fruitful relationship is The Adventurer. A convict (Chaplin) is on the run from Prison Guards on the coast when he hears the sounds of people crying out for help. He comes across three people who are drowning having fallen off a nearby pier and saves each of them one by one. One of the people he saves is an attractive young woman (Edna Purviance) who invites the man back to her house to rest without knowing his past. As the two begin to get on very well, the convict’s past catches up with him thanks to the persistence of the young girl’s suitor (Eric Campbell).

Chaplin’s final outing for Mutual is a more than decent short which features some genuinely laugh out loud moments in addition to a well tailored story and plenty of trademark slapstick. What makes it stand out for me though is not only was it the last film Chaplin made for the Mutual Corporation but it was also his last to feature regular adversary Eric Campbell who tragically died just a couple of months after the film’s release in a drink driving accident. Chaplin and Campbell were very close friends, living next door to one another when the latter died and Chaplin never again cast a regular actor to play his antagonist.

The film is full of clever gags including what is probably my favourite from the entire Mutual series. Having saved Eric Campbell (amongst others) from drowning, the giant man is put on a stretcher. Rather than waiting for a second man to help carry the stretcher, Chaplin lifts just the bottom end which causes Campbell to slide off, back into the sea. It was an excellent gag which came just seconds after another fantastic sequence. When Chaplin first hears the cries for help he races over to the drowning trio and happens upon a middle aged woman. He begins to help her to safety but notices the woman’s attractive daughter is nearby so decides to leave the old woman and save her daughter instead. The actions fit the character superbly and are very funny to watch. The film also contains some wonderful choreography as Chaplin time and again slips out of the grasps of the Prison Guards and once at Edna’s house, attempts to steal alcohol any way he can. One scene in particular features a clever blink and you’ll miss it glass switch which is wonderfully timed.

One of the things I like about Chaplin’s films which use location filming is the chance to observe the world, or at least California as it was nearly one hundred years ago. In this film, there is a pier and fun fair in the background but it’s more subtle details that caught my eye. There is a small footpath from the cliff to the beach which is used a couple of times and that got me thinking about that path and when it was first made. In 1917 California was still in its infancy so that path couldn’t have been very well trodden. Something else that caught my eye was a small fishing boat, well out to sea. Could the man in that boat in mid 1917 ever imagine that ninety-five years later his image would be seen in a house on the other side of the world, or that a man born probably fifty years after he died would be writing about him on a machine which connects half the world’s population? Was he even aware of the filming that day on the cliffs above him? It might be a slightly tangential thing to be thinking about but it feels sometimes as though these films do take you back in time. The fact then that the films are still so recognisably funny after all these years is a credit to Charlie Chaplin’s writing and comic acting.


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