Early & Silent Film

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The Adventurer, Mutual 1917

Posted by keith1942 on December 12, 2016

mutual-adventurer

Chaplin learnt his trade in the British Music Hall. Then on tour of the USA he was recruited by the Keystone Film Company. The studio was run by Max Sennett and based at Edendale, close to the developing Hollywood. Chaplin signed with them in August 2013 and his first films appeared in 1914. Gradually his screen persona of ‘the tramp’ emerged and by 1915 he was already a star. The Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds, which opened in 1914, records some film details in the surviving log books. By the middle 1915 Charlie Chaplin is a ‘name above the title’ and attracting some of the biggest attendances of the year. Chaplin appeared in 35 films for Keystone: mainly one-reelers. By now he was so successful he was able to sign with the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company for an increased salary and with greater control over the films in which he appeared. Chaplin made 14 films for Essanay, both one and two reelers. By now he was an international star and he moved again, this time Lone Star Mutual. Not only did he now exercise complete control over the titles but he was able to work at his own pace and in his own way: slower than most film-makers and with a perfectionist attention to detail and the comedy.

This film was the fourteenth and last title he made there. The shooting took at least two months, an exceptionally long period for the time. He shot about 700 takes, this for a film that was 1800 feet long and which ran for just over 20 minutes, presumably at 16 fps. There was not a script as such. Chaplin planned two settings, an opening sequence shot on the coast and then a set of interiors at a large mansion. When these were completed he added a third section which acted as a bridge between the start and end setting of the film.

The opening of the film finds Charlie as an escaped convict being pursued by a group of police along the seaside. This is fine slapstick with excellent timing. The sequence is almost entirely a chase up and down the cliffs and along the beach and water. Charlie displays the balletic grace which is one of his star attractions.

The central section has a series of rescues from the water and Charlie’s encounter with an attractive and affluent young woman (Edna Purviance). He also encounters her beau, played by his regular nemesis Eric Campbell.

The final section finds Charlie a guest at the mansion woman’s father, [he is a judge]. Charlie masquerades as a society man and is involved in a s series of mishaps and gags involving the well-heeled guests and the servants. Mayhem returns when the police re-appear towards the end of the film.

Charlie’s persona is typified in this film in the manner that David Robinson presents in a quotation:

“… all my films are built round the idea of getting me into trouble and so giving me the chance to be desperately serious  in my attempt to appear as a normal little gentleman.” (David Robinson Chaplin His Life and Art, Collins and Son 1985).

Chaplin, whilst a tramp, has a petit-bourgeois style and his penury is constantly contrasted with his expensive tastes. This is especially true of the sequence in the rich mansion which sees Chaplin attempting to impress the young woman whilst his rival intervenes and the niceties of social norms are repeatedly sabotaged.

This approach was clearly an important factor in Charlie early success and popularity:

“One of the things most quickly learned in theatrical work is that people as a whole get satisfaction from seeing the rich get the worst of things. The reason for this, of course, lies in the fact that nine tenths of the people in the world are poor, and secretly resent the wealth of the other tenth.”

And Music Hall, and the US Vaudeville audiences had an even higher percentage of the poor. This was also a decade in which such divisions were powerfully present in political and economic life. The film also benefits from Chaplin’s inspired use of props: an instance here uses ice cream.

Stylistically this film, like its companions, is straightforward. The camerawork tends to rely on the long shot, with an occasional mid-shot. Camera potions are closest to the plan americain, head-on and mid-figure. The structure of the film relies mainly on the editing, and the cutting is an important element in the humour and jokes in the film. The cinematography, by Chaplin’s regular Roland Toleroth, is simple and effective. There is some under-cranking to achieve speed-up in the early sequences. And the characters tend to position themselves mid-frame.

At this early stage there films offer little in the way of credits. There would have been a raft of craft personnel working on this film. However, by now Chaplin was an autocrat, sometimes even a control freak, and it is mainly his mark we see on the film.

But an important element is the supporting cast. Edna Purviance was a regular in Chaplin’s films at this period: she also had a close personal relationship with Chaplin. The other key character is played by Eric Campbell. He is a superb foil to the ‘tramp’ and one wonders how effective the films would have been in his absence. Indeed this was his last film with Chaplin: he died not long after in an automobile accident.

After Mutual Chaplin’s films became longer and he developed the feature length comedies of the 1920s. But of course the groundwork for his later success was laid in the one and two reelers of the teens. Critics tend to rate the Mutual comedies as the best of his short films. The Adventurer is certainly a fine comedy. Some of the sequences are hilarious and one is aware all the time of a masterful hand coming up with witty and even outrageous effects.

Released October 1917. Two reels. Black and white. 1845 feet.

 

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