The Fireman (Charlie Chaplin, 1916)

The second in the Mutual Comedies series (the first, The Floorwalker, I have previously reviewed), The Fireman is another great example of master craftsmanship from Chaplin. It involves an insurance fraud setup whereby a man (Lloyd Bacon) colludes with a local fire chief (Eric Campbell) to collect on the insurance money. However, things don’t quite go to plan when a real fire breaks out on the other side of town and the whole plot falls over to humorous results. Chaplin plays a fire engine driver who fails at everything he is involved with and this character is the source of most of the humour, especially in his interactions with the fire chief, played by the brilliant Campbell.

It’s not quite Chaplin at his best, nor is it really quite as effective as The Floorwalker, but it has its charm and is worth watching if only for the few big laughs dotted throughout. There are much worse ways to spend 28 minutes of your day.

I preferred the original Fotoplayer music and sound effects as performed by Robert Israel on this one, but both audio tracks compliment the original visuals perfectly well. It comes down to personal preference and I’m more of a traditionalist.

Charlie Chaplin – The Mutual Comedies is out now on BFI Blu-ray and DVD.

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The Floorwalker (Charlie Chaplin, 1916)

On 25th February 1916, Charlie Chaplin signed a $670,000 deal with the Mutual Film Corporation to produce a film a month over a one-year period. This made him the highest-paid entertainer in the world. The deal came as a surprise to the film industry; many had expected him to sign with a larger studio and Mutual hadn’t really been considered as an option. However, the money (according to Dollar Times online calculator it was equivalent to $15.2m in 2015) and the creative freedom swayed him and production began in earnest.

The first of these films, all of which were short comedies, was The Floorwalker, released on 15th May 1916. The basic story involves a department store floorwalker (Lloyd Bacon) who is involved with embezzlement of money with the store manager (Eric Campbell). When they receive a letter informing them that detectives are on the way to investigate the finances, they decide to run. However, when the floorwalker spots a near-perfect lookalike in a tramp (Chaplin), he decides to offer to switch personas with him, without realising that the tramp himself is in trouble with the police for property damage in the shop.

The film has a couple of classic Chaplin comedy moments. The first (which is reused throughout to great hilarity) involves the tramp’s inability to go up or down an escalator. It is just pure comedy gold and though it has been imitated many times over, never has it been done so effectively. Another set piece that has had its imitators over the years is the first meeting of the trap and the floorwalker, in which they become intrigued by one-another and begin to mirror the other’s movement. It requires perfect comic timing and is brilliantly executed. It is perhaps more fondly remembered in The Marx Brothers’ comedy Duck Soup, though the gag in that film involved a mirror so isn’t strictly a copy.

All twelve films from the Mutual Film Corporation period are collected in an excellent Blu-ray (and DVD) released by BFI this month. The presentation of each includes two scores (all have one score by Carl Davis and an alternative score by a range of composers), an audio commentary and a brief discussion in the extensive booklet. The restorations are evidently full of care and attention to detail, which I’ve come to expect of BFI releases but will never stop appreciating.

Go out and buy a copy now and support the important restoration projects for classic cinema. You won’t be disappointed with this release.

Charlie Chaplin – The Mutual Comedies is out now on BFI Blu-ray and DVD.