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 directs and stars in His New Profession, a 1914 silent short comedy from Keystone Studios. Apart from a few mischievous setups, this is pretty standard fare. The picture, lensed by Frank D. Williams, also ran under the title The Good for Nothing.
Chaplin is playing the usual archetype. He wears the familiar garb of the Tramp archetype, complete with the bowler hat and the too-large pants, and he’s very interested in the scandalous Police Gazette tabloid. What’s more, the driving force behind his actions is a need for beer money.
Charley Chase plays a nephew tasked with taking care of his wheelchair-bound uncle (Jess Dandy). The young man wants to spend some time with his sexy lady friend, who may or may not be played by Peggy Page. With his uncle dragging him down, Chase’s character tasks Chaplin’s character with looking after the baggage. He promises to pay for the time.
Chaplin’s character wheels the uncle around the pier and sets his sights on the bar, where the bartender (Roscoe Arbuckle) ain’t into shelling out free drinks. He comes up with a plan to use the uncle as a conduit to some cash. All hell naturally breaks loose.
There is a great deal of wheelchair-oriented slapstick in His New Profession and that may or may not feel dated, depending on your perspective. There are some funny moments, like a double-tease of the uncle rolling toward the end of a very, very high pier, and the spirit of things is light. The violence is kept to a minimum, even as a “paraplegic” is introduced.
It’s interesting to consider Chaplin’s role as the opportunist. He is once again a man minding his own business, but he’s always game to scrape together a little green. While most people probably would’ve walked away from handling someone’s uncle for an afternoon, Chaplin’s character is up to the task.
But Chaplin doesn’t play the archetype off as fishing for sympathy, even if he does maintain a moral centre. He’s a step above Chase’s character on the ethical ladder, although his dubious but amusing actions involving the other man in the wheelchair suggests a more dissolute side.
It’s the lousy nephew that really gets the ball rolling, so to speak. He treats his uncle as an inconvenience and the ditzy girl doesn’t see it as much of a problem. She even mocks the wheelchair-bound man later on with a tittering dig at the “cripple,” so one has to imagine the nephew’s actions as wasted.
And speaking of the ditzy girl, she’s a jerk. She comes on to Chaplin’s character when her hot date at the pier goes belly-up, but she scuttles around like a clownish victim when the moustachioed one flirts back. It’s a strange game.
There isn’t a lot to His New Profession, save for a few comical wheelchair gags, and some of the framing is off. It does open with a top-tier close-up of Chaplin, however, and sets itself up as a personable if elementary short comedy.