By David G. Firestone
What can be said about Charlie Chaplain that hasn’t already been said. The man was a legend in silent film, with his trademark character known as “The Tramp.” He was a man who knew comedy, and who could attract an audience to a cinema like few before or since. Chaplain comedies were gold during the silent era, but Chaplain had a hard time adjusting to sound in his movies, and as such, his career took a bit of a downturn. This downturn would eventually spiral with a series of controversies, on and off screen. By 1952, Chaplain would see himself banned from reentry into the United States, and spent the rest of his life in Europe, where he died in 1977.
Wikipedia describes The Tramp as follows: “The physical attributes of the Tramp include a pair of abnormally large baggy pants, an abnormally tight coat, an abnormal bowler hat, an abnormally large pair of shoes, an abnormally springy and flexible cane, and an abnormal toothbrush moustache- a mass of contradictions, as Chaplin wanted it to be. The Tramp walks strangely and uncomfortably because of the ill-fitting clothing; either he is wearing secondhand clothes, or they are originally his but he can’t afford new ones, which brings us to the conclusion that the Tramp may have seen better days, but he maintains the attitude and demeanor of a high-class individual; as long as he acts like one he can believe that he is one, and is able to keep his hope that some day he actually will be again.
Chaplian himself stated :”I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large … I added a small moustache, which, I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression. I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the makeup made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born.”
While the world knew of The Tramp’s many movies, few remember that the first appearance of the character was in a racing film. Chaplain and director Henry Lehrman attended the 1914 Junior Vanderbilt Cup in Santa Monica, California. There, they shot Kid Auto Races at Venice.
The film features Chaplian trying to stand in front of a camera filming the races, much to the chagrin of the camera crew. At one point, the camera angle switches to film the camera that Chaplian is standing in front of. It’s a very simple premise, but boy does it work! This is not only a funny movie in its own right, but it’s also the launch pad for a legendary career. I can’t say anything bad about this, so it gets an A.
Next week, we switch from comedy to action and romance.