From Keystone to Essanay: Chaplin 1914/15

Mabel’s Strange Predicament
R: Mabel Normand. B: Henry Lehrman. K: Hans F. Koenekamp, Frank D. Williams. D: Mabel Normand, Charles Chaplin, Chester Conklin. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1914

Mabel at the Wheel
R: Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett. K: Frank D. Williams. D: Charles Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Harry McCoy. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1914

The New Janitor
R: Charles Chaplin. K: Frank D. Williams. D: Charles Chaplin, Peggy Page, John T. Dillon, Al St. John. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1914

In the Park
R: Charles Chaplin. K: Harry Ensign. D: Charles Chaplin, Leona Anderson, Billy Armstrong, Edna Purviance. P: Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1915

The Tramp
R: Charles Chaplin. K: Harry Ensign, Rollie Totheroh. D: Charles Chaplin, Billy Armstrong, Lloyd Bacon, Edna Purviance. P: Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1915

“After the expiration of his one-year contract with the Keystone Film Company, Chaplin was lured to Essanay for the unprecedented salary of $1,250 per week, with a bonus of $10,000 for merely signing with the company. The fourteen films he made for the company were distinctly marked and designated upon release as the ‘Essanay-Chaplin Brand’. The company’s headquarters were in Chicago, Illinois, and the company had a second studio in Niles, California. The name Essanay was formed from the surname initials, S and A, of its two founders: George K. Spoor, who provided the financing and managed the company, and G.M. Anderson, better known as “Broncho Billy” Anderson, cinema’s first cowboy star.

Essanay began in 1907 and a year later became a member of the powerful Motion Picture Patents Company. Chaplin’s one year with the company was its zenith. The studio foundered after Chaplin left to join the Mutual Film Corporation and finally ceased operations in 1918. Essanay would most likely be largely forgotten were it not for Chaplin’s early association.

While no single Chaplin film for Essanay displays the aggregate transformation to the more complex, subtle filmmaking that characterizes his later work, these comedies contain a collection of wonderful, revelatory moments, foreshadowing the pathos (The Tramp), comedic transposition (A Night Out), fantasy (A Night Out), gag humor (The Champion), and irony (Police), of the mature Chaplin films to come.

The most celebrated of the Essanay comedies, The Tramp, is regarded as the first classic Chaplin film. It is noteworthy because of Chaplin’s use of pathos in situations designed to evoke pity or compassion toward the characters, particularly the Tramp. An innovation in comedic filmmaking, The Tramp dares to have a sad ending.”
By Jeffrey Vance, adapted from his book Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema (New York, 2003)
Charlie Chaplin