Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Floorwalker and The Vagabond

The Floorwalker (1916)

At Mutual Films, Chaplin finally is free from the demand to produce a film every week or two.  He now has a month to produce a two-reel film, which gives him the creative space he needs to create truly unique films.  He establishes a new setting and plot for each film, giving the Tramp the opportunity to develop as a character as well.  Here, the Tramp is neither a rake, nor a sad sack, but a homeless man trying to get by, taking what opportunities he gets with more than a little mischievousness.

The Tramp wanders in a department store, where he takes advantage of items on display to do his morning grooming, stunning the store employee to silence.  Meanwhile, the store managers, including the floorwalker (who bears some resemblance to the Tramp) is attempting to get away with 80,000 dollars they embezzled from the store.  The floorwalker decides to offer the Tramp his job, so he can get away with the money.  The Tramp saves the day, unknowingly, using silliness to keep the murderous manager at bay.

It’s a more coherent, complete story than we’ve seen Chaplin do for a while.  Also, we can see Chaplin’s influence on comedy of the future.  We see the first mirror sequence and the first moving stairway gags.  The persona the Tramp uses in this film clearly influences the Bugs Bunny cartoons of later years.  Perhaps I didn’t laugh at this film as much as some earlier ones (His New Job, The Tramp, Triple Trouble), but that is more because the best sequences are copied again and again by later performers and comics.

3/5, but 3.5 for effort and recognizing the ingenuity copied by many others.

Additional note about the quality of copies:  Some are trying to fill the wider horizontal size by cutting the top of the film.  That's awful, just awful.  I know I would have enjoyed this film more if I had been able to see the faces all the time.  I linked to a YouTube version that doesn't have it cropped.

The Vagabond (1916)

We truly see Chaplin come into his own as a filmmaker here.  Here we have a film that is somewhere between The Tramp and City Lights: It is a full story, with many interesting characters, full settings, and full scenes that give proper comedic impact without overstaying their welcome.  It took a while for him to become the director we recognize, but here he is.

The Tramp is busking outside a bar, but when another band steals his thunder, he passes the hat “for” them.  They get upset, there is a fight and chasing.  Although there is much we have seen before, there is some good choreography here.  But not as much fun as the next scene when he busks for a sole girl, and when that girl is beat with a whip, the Tramp can’t stand by idly.

This is an almost perfect little film, with a good number of laughs, and some good romantic drama.  Chaplin has finally entered the realm of the modern comedy, a genre he helped invent. (Keaton is still a year away from his first film).


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