Showing posts with label 1921. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1921. Show all posts

Friday, 4 January 2013

The Idle Class

Arriving on the back of his first great film The Kid, Charlie Chaplin’s The Idle Class feels weak and thin in comparison. The writer in Chaplin was struggling for ideas before he got the spark for The Kid and it almost feels as though he is back to square one while writing the two reel The Idle Class. A Tramp (Chaplin) gets off a train, and not how you’d expect him to, before heading for a day at the golf course. Meanwhile a wealthy wife (Edna Purviance) also disembarks expecting her well to do husband (also Chaplin) to meet her at the station but he is drunk at home. Following some hi jinks at the golf course there is a case of mistaken identity at a ball at which Edna takes the Tramp for her husband.

For me The Idle Class lacks the depth which made The Kid great and also lacks the direction and laughs that are found in the likes of A Dog's Life or Shoulder Arms. It occasionally takes a more dramatic route but this often fails to match even Sunnyside for dramatic narrative. The film is saved by a middle act on the golf course which is brilliantly inventive and funny but is unfortunately bookended by a beginning and end which did little for me.  

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Kid

Undoubtedly Chaplin’s finest film of the period and one of the highlights of his long career, The Kid was not only his first feature film but also in my opinion his first great work. Produced at a difficult time in the star’s life, The Kid is the first of several Chaplin films which perfectly balanced comedy, drama and pathos. His previous films had often contained at least one of these elements and earlier films such as A Dog's Life and The Immigrant had provided at least two, but for the first time in 1921, despite personal tragedy and pressure from his studio, Chaplin created his first true masterpiece.

Production began in 1919 just ten days after the death of Chaplin’s baby son Norman. Chaplin, who had been struggling creatively, was instantly hit with an idea that was to become The Kid. As his Tramp character Chaplin finds a baby who has been abandoned by a poor single mother (Edna Purviance). The Tramp ends up raising the child alone and when he is around six or seven the child (Jackie Coogan) helps his adoptive father in his window repair business. The father follows the boy around town as the boy breaks windows. Soon after being smashed, the man turns up to repair them. All is well until the boy falls sick and a Doctor realises the Tramp is not the natural father. Soon after Social Services arrive to take the boy from the man in what is one of the most gut wrenchingly moving scenes in cinema history.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Charlie Chaplin - The First National Films

Having ended his contract with the Mutual Film Corporation amicably, Charlie Chaplin signed the world’s first One Million Dollar movie contract in June 1918. This contract gave him total control over production for a return of eight films. Chaplin decided to build a new studio off Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. The famous Chaplin Studios were designed in the style of English country cottages and contained everything Chaplin would need to develop, film and cut his movies. Chaplin eventually sold the studios in 1953 and they are now owned by Jim Henson Company.

Chaplin began work on his first film for First National in early 1918 and A Dog’s Life was released in April. Over the next four years Chaplin shot eight films at his new studio for First National during one of the most turbulent times of his career. In September 1918 he married the seventeen year old actress Mildred Harris in what was and still is a highly controversial marriage. Harris lied to Chaplin about being pregnant and the marriage ended in a messy divorce in 1920. During the same period the star became frustrated with First National’s impatience and lack of concern for quality and in 1919, while still under contract with First National created United Artists with fellow actors and directors Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D. W. Griffith. The venture which was self funded and offered the Hollywood stars the chance to work freely and independently although Chaplin himself didn’t make a film with the company until 1922 as he was still under contract with First National.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The Goat

Buster Keaton is walking past a jail when he grabs the bars and peers inside. On the other side of the bars is notorious murderer “Dead Shot Dan” who is being photographed. Seeing that Keaton is behind him, Dan ducks out of shot and once he escapes, a photo of Keaton, seemly behind bars is published. As a result of this Keaton is forced to go on the run from various police officers including a persistent Police Chief who just won’t give up.

I watch a lot of Silent Comedy but if I had to ask someone to watch just one short silent picture it may well be this one. The Goat is packed full of wonderful jokes, ingenious set ups and incredible stunt work. I laughed more at twenty seven minutes of this film than I have during probably every comedy I’ve seen so far this year combined.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Haunted House

Buster Keaton’s 1921 short stars the actor/director as a New York City bank teller. Keaton being Keaton soon gets into trouble, spilling glue all over the counter and accidentally stopping a robbery before ending up in a haunted house.
The film begins with a shot of 1921 Wall Street. I always like to see exterior shots in silent movies as it’s a rare chance to see the real world as it was back then. The action then goes inside a small bank. One of the funniest moments in this sequence is the sight of a customer with glue on his trousers getting stuck, backside to backside with another bank teller.

The second part of the film takes place in a large house in which counterfeiters have set up shop. This is the funniest part of the film and features a recurring gag about some collapsing stairs which doesn’t get old. The counterfeiters have filled the house with pretend ghosts in order to scare off police and intruders and Keaton finds himself confronted with scare after scare, none of which are really scary but in fact quite funny. We’re talking men with sheets over their heads and others dressed as skeletons. The best part of the second act is two such skeletons who construct a man who appears, through cunning editing to come to life. The film ends with a classic scene which has Keaton receive a blow to the head and climb stairs to heaven. When he gets to the top, the stairs collapse (again) and he plummets into hell. All is well in the end though as when he wakes up in the arms of his love interest.

This isn’t the best Keaton film but I’ve also seen worse. Its well worth checking out and at only 21 minutes won’t take too much time to do so. I laughed about nine or ten times in those 21 minutes which is a very good laugh per minute ratio and much higher than any 21st Century comedy I’ve seen. The film can be watched free on YouTube.