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.
Charlie Chaplin plays a well-heeled man driven bonkers by the nastiness of romance in Cruel, Cruel Love, a 1914 silent short film directed by George Nichols and Mack Sennett. This is Chaplin’s ninth picture for Keystone Studios and it features a Craig Hutchinson screenplay with Frank D. Williams’ cinematography, as is typical for the era.
Cruel, Cruel Love was thought lost right up until the 1970s. A print was discovered in South America, complete with Spanish intertitles. As you can see below, it’s not in the best of shape but at least it exists in some format or another.
Chaplin stars as “the jilted suitor” and Minta Durfee is the girl. After the protagonist is inadvertently embraced by his maid (Eva Nelson), all hell breaks loose. Distraught that his girlfriend might leave him, Chaplin’s character goes to drastic measures. Eventually, the doctors are brought in to try to straighten up the distressed man but he quite literally kicks them out.
Cruel, Cruel Love appears to work as a send-up of classic melodrama tropes. There are elements of romantic indulgence and Chaplin is game to convey just how out of sorts he is. The prospect of losing his engagement drives him mad and plunges him into personal hell. He even attempts to poison himself because he thinks Durfee’s character is done with him.
But when this poisoning scheme really takes hold, the gardener (Edgar Kennedy) signals a way out by informing the jilted suitor that his lady is willing to forgive and forget the mix-up. The trouble is that Chaplin’s already swallowed the “poison,” which in turn leads to some excessive facial contortions and a wild ending.
When we consider Cruel, Cruel Love in the context of flicks like Tango Tangles and even His Favorite Pastime, we see that Chaplin has something more evolved in mind. Make no mistake about it, his commitment to the zany is still pressing and wisdom isn’t really part of the bargain. He jumps to conclusions and takes drastic, presumably deadly action on the business end of a misinterpretation.
But his character is theoretically one or two rungs up the ladder from the drunken ne’er-do-wells of the aforementioned pictures, which seems to suggest that even the high society suitor can find himself tossed in twain by life’s misfortunes. His wealth and logic don’t matter much when love has its say.
There’s a fair bit of slapstick in this farce, but some of the more remarkable pieces come near the end when Chaplin releases a series of jump kicks that would fit right in a mixed martial arts ring. He gives the literal boot to his doctors and those laughing at his expense and his reckless abandon is a sight to behold.
Cruel, Cruel Love is an interesting silent short, but it’s also a little hard to get a read on. A lot happens over the course of 10 or so minutes and the ending is abrupt. And as with many of the Keystone outings, there’s a lot of redundant brawling. Still, this isn’t as awkward a film as the last couple and it definitely illustrates a cohesive if bumpy yarn about miserable romance.