Charles Chaplin

The Kid (1921, Charles Chaplin), the director’s cut

Some time after the halfway point in The Kid, it becomes clear the film isn’t going to end badly for its leads. Charlie Chaplin is the tramp, Jackie Coogan is his ward (a tramp in training). Chaplin, as a director, is fairly restrictive. Most of the action takes place on a few streets, primarily outside their apartment. Coogan breaks windows, Chaplin fixes them. They cook for each other. It’s adorable, if only because Coogan’s really cute and Chaplin’s very sincere in his performance as the unlikely caregiver.

But there’s not much depth to the relationship. Chaplin knows how to get an effective scene–he looks into the camera, sad, Coogan screams for him–but none of the scenes come off as honest. There’s an artifice to them. The Kid is pleasant enough to watch as the artifice is competent and the performances sincere, but Chaplin–as director–gets a lot more mileage out of scenes where he loses track of Coogan than ones with him.

With the notable exception of a rooftop chase sequence (Chaplin’s on the rooftop, Coogan’s in a car).

But when Chaplin’s unknowingly flirting with the local beat cop’s wife or trying to get out of a fight with the neighborhood bully? Those moments have a lot more creative energy.

Maybe it never really feels like Coogan’s part of the gag. Sometimes he is the gag.

And the ending is way too nice; following a Heaven-set dream sequence, it’s narratively awkward.

But The Kid is all right. Enough.



Written, edited, produced and directed by Charles Chaplin; director of photography, Roland Totheroh; music by Chaplin; released by First National Pictures.

Starring Edna Purviance (The Woman), Jackie Coogan (The Child) and Charles Chaplin (A Tramp).

The Circus (1928, Charles Chaplin)

The Circus has a melancholic tone it doesn’t need and one director Chaplin is never fully invested in. The first half of the film is a series of fantastic gags–well, except the stuff with ring master Al Ernest Garcia being abusive to his daughter, played by Merna Kennedy. But the rest of it is hilarious. Chaplin, as the tramp, bumbles his way into the circus and the audience’s heart (while all the regular acts flop).

Chaplin’s gags are careful and deliberate–there’s a great mirror maze one and the circus act stuff is hilarious. It seems the tramp can’t figure out how to make the audience laugh when he’s trying to do so, only when he’s a bumbler. And he’s unaware of it.

Until around halfway, when Kennedy lets him in on the secret and he gets some bravado. That bravado leads to a decent sequence when he’s full of himself, but he immediately loses it because Harry Crocker shows up (in the late second act) to make a love triangle with Kennedy.

Now, Kennedy never has much of a character, but her friendship with Chaplin’s much better than her romantic interest in Crocker. Chaplin, as director and writer, is invested in the former. The latter is just for melodramatic purposes. Even if the first half does feel like a series of vignettes, they’re fabulous vignettes. The rest of the film is just Chaplin working for that melancholy.

It’s a shame the energy doesn’t maintain throughout the entire film.



Written, edited, directed and produced by Charles Chaplin; director of photography, Roland Totheroh; released by United Artists.

Starring Al Ernest Garcia (The Circus Proprietor and Ring Master), Merna Kennedy (His Step-Daughter – A Circus Rider), Harry Crocker (Rex – A Tight Rope Walker), George Davis (A Magician), Henry Bergman (An Old Clown), Tiny Sandford (The Head Property Man), John Rand (An Assistant Property Man), Steve Murphy (A Pickpocket) and Charles Chaplin (A Tramp).

Recreation (1914, Charles Chaplin)

Chaplin’s got a real problem with visual continuity in Recreation. At first, he does really well. The actors move–through a park–from left to right. Helen Carruthers is on a bench with a prospective beau (Charles Bennett), then she leaves him and moves right. Chaplin (as the Tramp) enters and moves right to follow her.

Eventually he has to move further right, where he starts throwing bricks at Bennett. Recreation makes me wonder if brick throwing was a big thing in the teens.

Anyway, there’s a bunch of action between the different shots and it’s really great. Then Chaplin breaks it for the finish, multiple times, and the jump is rather annoying.

Otherwise, Recreation is a good deal of fun. Chaplin and his actors have a great time with the physical comedy; the Tramp’s undeniably charming. Shame an island appeared out of nowhere to set up the final gag.



Written, edited and directed by Charles Chaplin; director of photography, Frank D. Williams; produced by Mack Sennett; released by Mutual Film.

Starring Charles Chaplin (Tramp), Helen Carruthers (Girl), Charles Bennett (Seaman), Edwin Frazee (Short Cop) and Edward Nolan (Tall Cop).

Cruel, Cruel Love (1914, George Nichols)

Cruel, Cruel Love has a lot of possibilities. Sadly, director Nichols doesn’t realize any of them. He’s interested in broad physical humor–wrestling, actually–and having Charlie Chaplin mug for the camera. Chaplin does a fine enough job mugging, but it goes on forever.

Love concerns an engaged couple, Chaplin and Minta Durfee. When Durfee sees him helping her maid (after the maid trips), Durfee ends the engagement. Already, Love‘s on its own plane of reality.

Chaplin responds by drinking poison, hence the mugging as he convulses. Except he didn’t really take poison, his butler (Edgar Kennedy) tricked him. Maybe he wanted to see Chaplin mug for the camera too.

The viewer knows Chaplin’s fine almost immediately, which kills Love‘s suspense. I kept waiting for Nichols and writer Craig Hutchinson to do something smart with the plot. I’m still waiting.

Love‘s not a terrible short, but it’s a lame one.

1/3Not Recommended


Directed by George Nichols; written by Craig Hutchinson; director of photography, Frank D. Williams; produced by Mack Sennett; released by Mutual Film.

Starring Charles Chaplin (The Lord), Edgar Kennedy (The Butler), Minta Durfee (The Lady), Eva Nelson (The Maid) and William Hauber (The Gardener).

His Trysting Place (1914, Charles Chaplin)

The best thing about His Trysting Place is probably Frank D. Williams’s photography. Chaplin’s athletics are impressive, but he doesn’t have much use for them. They’re most exciting during his food fight with Mack Swain. The food fight itself isn’t particularly funny–until the end–but Chaplin looks like he’s flying at times.

Trysting is about two dumb husbands–Chaplin and Swain–who cross paths to bad effect. Chaplin’s married to Mabel Normand and he’s obtuse. He can’t get his relaxing done at home, what with Normand caring for their baby. Swain’s just a buffoon, even a lovable one.

They mix up their coats after the food fight and Chaplin goes home with a note from Swain’s maid to her lover. Normand finds it… antics ensue.

Trysting is lengthy at twenty minutes. Normand’s not particularly good; her performances hurts the film.

But it’s genial and Williams’s photography makes it beautiful.



Written, edited and directed by Charles Chaplin; director of photography, Frank D. Williams; produced by Mack Sennett; released by Mutual Film.

Starring Charles Chaplin (Clarence, the Husband), Mabel Normand (Mabel, The Wife), Mack Swain (Ambrose) and Phyllis Allen (Ambrose’s Wife).

His Prehistoric Past (1914, Charles Chaplin)

Chaplin opens His Prehistoric Past setting it up as a dream sequence, which lets the viewer know the outcome can’t be too dramatic. But the setup is immediate–Chaplin falls asleep on a park bench–so the more relatable elements in the dream don’t have much substance.

In the dream (the majority of Past), Chaplin is a macho man, who beats up all cavemen and wows all the cavewomen. But there’s no establishing the character as wanting to beat all the men and wow all the women… though I suppose the latter is implied.

The short drags quite a bit after the initial fight scene, as Chaplin pals around with the king (Mack Swain) and make goo goo eyes at the king’s favorite concubine (Gene Marsh). Marsh’s performance suggests Past has subtle depth–at times she’s frightened of Chaplin’s affections.

The production values are strong, but otherwise, it’s mostly undistinguished.

1/3Not Recommended


Written, edited and directed by Charles Chaplin; director of photography, Frank D. Williams; produced by Mack Sennett; released by Mutual Film.

Starring Charles Chaplin (Weakchin), Mack Swain (King Lowbrow), Gene Marsh (Sum-Babee), Fritz Schade (Ku-Ku), Cecile Arnold (Cavewoman) and Al St. John (Caveman).

Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914, Henry Lehrman)

Okay, Kid Auto Races at Venice makes a little more sense now… it was ad-libbed. Charlie Chaplin really was just doing annoying gags in front of people who are watching a baby-cart race.

Most the film consists of Chaplin acting like a jerk. He’s funny and appealing enough, but the short’s particular because of its handling of the camera. Initially, with Chaplin mugging for the camera, it appears he’s breaking the fourth wall. It then becomes clear he’s acting out in front of a camera.

Kid Auto Races director Lehrman plays the suffering director in Kid Auto Races, adding another layer to the whole thing.

It’s amazing Chaplin and Lehrman are able to keep it fresh, since it’s really just Lehrman eventually getting fed up and dragging Chaplin out of the shot.

The short also raises the historical question–did jerks often interfere with silent era newsreel photographers?



Directed by Henry Lehrman; written by Lehrman and Charles Chaplin; produced by Mack Sennett; released by Mutual Film.

Starring Charles Chaplin (Tramp) and Henry Lehrman (Film Director).

Scroll to Top