Chaplinmania: Tango Tangles (1914)



In this feature, I’ll be taking a look at the films of Charlie Chaplin. I’ll be including the shorts (where possible) and will hopefully delve into what makes him such an indomitable social and cultural figure to this very day. As with my Hitchmania feature, my approach will be somewhat haphazard. Things will run chronologically and there may be an essay or two to further discuss a particular period (for example, the Keystone period and so forth). I hope you’ll join me for what should be a lot of fun.

Minta Durfee has the “honour” of being the object of affection for three testosterone-fuelled jackasses in Tango Tangles, a 1914 silent short film. This outing is directed, produced and written by Mack Sennett for his Keystone Studios. It is the seventh of Charlie Chaplin’s movies for the studio and it saw release just a few days after A Film Johnnie.

Tango Tangles has a lot in common with Between Showers in that the general thrust of the short involves men fighting over a woman. In Sennett’s picture, he flings a third man into the proceedings and throws a massive party. Several uncredited players account for the party guests, with the likes of Alice Davenport and Charles Avery among the revellers.

Charlie Chaplin stars as a tipsy dancer. He appears sans moustache and actually appears to be a man of status. He arrives at a bustling dance party and is instantly smitten with the hat-check girl (Durfee). He sets out to get her attention, but a bandleader (Ford Sterling) and a clarinetist (Roscoe Arbuckle) have similar ideas.

A fight breaks out between Sterling and Chaplin. The bandleader tries to distract Arbuckle’s character because he wants nothing to do with the big man, but it isn’t long before the clarinetist is throwing his weight around. Chaplin’s drunk and Sterling’s bandleader handle most of the rough stuff and they come to perhaps the only judicious conclusion possible after beating the crap out of each other.

Tango Tangles has a makeshift feel with a lot of tumbling and pratfalls. It was filmed partly on location at the Abbott Kinney Pier’s Venice Dance Hall and the collection of bopping characters gives it verve. Things are happening as they happen and Sennett’s short has a very lawless bent, with some neat surprises in the background.

Tango Tangles is a matter of the stars throwing themselves around. There are stair gags, with the embellished falling of Sterling and Chaplin giving way to a sense of friskiness. Arbuckle is somehow the more measured performer, even as he thrashes around in the crowd and nearly bowls everyone over.

There isn’t much to Sennett’s short and any subtext is buried in the bedlam. The main thrust appears to involve the occasion of having Sterling, Chaplin and Arbuckle have a go at each other. There are few other concerns and the woman is the medal. While Between Showers gave Emma Bell Clifton a chance to have a swing at her suitors, Durfee has no such luck.

The actress, who was close friends with Mabel Normand and was married to Arbuckle until 1925, isn’t given a lot to do. She stands around and snickers for the majority of Tango Tangles. Chaplin does achieve some sincere chemistry with her in an early scene and she reacts well when he misses the table and has to pull it closer.

But overall, Tango Tangles is kind of unremarkable. There’s not a lot going on, despite all the pandemonium, and Chaplin’s too handsome to pull off this sort of comedy. Without the peskiness of his earlier Tramp-like embodiments, his character is just a disorderly drunk in a suit.

Full Short:

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