Charlie and His Jobs

The Property Man
R: Charles Chaplin. D: Charles Chaplin, Phyllis Allen, Charles Bennett. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1914

“There can be little doubt that Chaplin’s time in vaudeville as part of Fred Karno’s troupe heavily influenced his work on The Property Man. It was Chaplin’s first attempt at a two reeler entirely under his control, so the familiarity with backstage life was probably something of a reassurance to him, even if there is perhaps not enough truly comedic material to sustain the full double-length running time.
The source for this film is Karno’s regular routine ‘The Mumming Birds’, which toured in America under the title ‘A Night in an English Music Hall’. It was a production which broke the ‘fourth wall’ of theatre, presenting a series of deliberately awful stage turns which were frequently interrupted by planted members of the audience (really other members of the Karno troupe) who took against what was being presented.
Chaplin often featured in this presentation as an upper class drunk who finds his way on stage, attracted by the showgirls and offended by the terrible performances in equal measure. Having perfected his drunk act, he was to put it to good use from his earliest days in American filmmaking—in fact, the first thing we see the Tramp do in this short is take a drink before the action begins!”
Brian J. Robb
Chaplin Film by Film

His New Job
R: Charles Chaplin. D: Charles Chaplin, Billy Armstrong, Agnes Ayres, Gloria Swanson. P: Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1915

“Perhaps easy to miss in His New Job, as she was uncredited and right at the back of the opening scene, was an appearance of actress Gloria Swanson, more associated with melodrama than silent comedy. Perhaps best known for her role as Norma Desmond, the bitter former silent movie star in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), it is sometimes forgotten that Swanson was actually a genuine silent comedy performer, even before she became the muse of director Cecil B. DeMille. Born in Chicago in 1899, Swanson was an army brat who started in movies as an extra at Essanay in 1914, the same year Chaplin was learning the movie ropes at Keystone. She attempted to win the leading female role in His New Job (played by Charlotte Mineau), but Chaplin just didn’t see her in the part (he was looking for a new Mabel Normand type, and eventually found Edna Purviance) casting her instead in the minor role of the uncredited stenographer. She recalled of Chaplin in Chicago that he ‘kept laughing and making his eyes twinkle, and talking in a light, gentle voice, encouraging me to let myself go and be silly.’”
Brian J. Robb
Chaplin Film by Film

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