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 is the undisputed director and star of Caught in the Rain, a 1914 silent short that was produced by Mack Sennett with cinematography by Frank D. Williams. This is a hilarious motion picture and it finds the filmmaker honing his craft while still largely sticking to the Keystone Studios blueprint.
Caught in the Rain has a good deal in common with Mabel Normand’s Mabel’s Strange Predicament. The hotel set is the same and Chaplin’s drunkenness again rears its funny head, plus there is some romantic misunderstanding with a married couple. Alice Davenport again has the opportunity to play the long-suffering wife.
Chaplin’s character starts the proceedings trying to hit on a woman in the park (Davenport) only to get physically dissuaded by her husband (Mack Swain). The husband and wife go off to a hotel and Chaplin shows up, fresh from nearly getting hit by a car. He has some trouble getting up the stairs, but eventually he discovers the couple’s room.
The couple is arguing and Chaplin wanders in, presumably in the wrong room. He finds his own room and somehow takes himself to bed. The trouble begins when it’s revealed that Davenport’s character is a sleepwalker. She wanders into Chaplin’s room and her husband comes looking. Hijinks ensue and eventually the Keystone Kops are shooting at Chaplin on a balcony.
Caught in the Rain transitions from a typical Keystone park comedy to some romantic shenanigans and it accomplishes the feat seamlessly. Chaplin’s direction is consistent and he connects the scenes logically (to a certain extent). The characters behave dependably and his drunk act resonates because it follows a natural path.
While Chaplin was a show-off and a pest in Mabel’s Strange Predicament, his Tramp archetype has evolved into a more sympathetic figure here. His drunkenness is borne from a battle with himself, as he pulls himself into the tavern by his ear. This represents a pronounced internal struggle.
Alcohol is a big part of Caught in the Rain. The arguing couple is also drinking and this may lead to their peculiar behaviour. They seem locked in tumult, like their relationship is rumbling to an end and a drunken evening at the hotel is a last ditch effort to inject some passion.
Chaplin’s ability to attach these concerns makes Caught in the Rain a comedy of personality, which seems to smooth the edges of Mabel’s Strange Predicament. While it’s not as frenetic or troublesome as Normand’s picture, Chaplin’s “official debut” indicates a great degree of directorial care and attention to detail.
There are lots of little moments and lots of big moments. He tries to light a match on a police officer, for instance, and his physical prowess at escalating the staircase is something else. He also adds layers with details like the little shake he gives when he slips out of his pants. And he communicates a great deal with a single look, illustrating a depth of character not yet seen.
Caught in the Rain is a giant leap forward for Chaplin as a creative force. It illustrates evolution after just a few months at Keystone Studios and showcases an artist ready to burst. It tells an inspired and clever story and avoids many of the pitfalls of some of his earlier works. And the wacky brawl to close things out is more restrained, a few light gunshots excepted.