Chaplinmania: The Rounders (1914)

the rounders

4mls

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 and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle team up for some hilarious slapstick comedy in The Rounders, a 1914 silent short. Chaplin writes and directs the breezy and terrifically funny outing, while Frank D. Williams handles the cinematography as is Keystone Studios tradition.

It stands to reason that The Rounders was nearly released under the title The Two Drunks because that’s what this is all about. Chaplin and Arbuckle excel at playing tiddly fools, but they reach new heights on this occasion. They work as a comedy team, marking the only official time they operate as a duo.

Chaplin plays a man in a cape referred to in some circles as Mr. Full. Phyllis Allen has the honour of playing his wife, Mrs. Full. Mr. Full is drunk and he returns to his wife in their hotel room, only to receive a whooping. Across the hall, Mr. Fuller (Arbuckle) is getting it from his wife (Minta Durfee).

The drunk husbands stagger into the hallway and meet. They decide to head to a posh dinner club and the ferocious wives are left behind. Unfortunately, the inebriated duo causes all manner of havoc and their wives catch up to them just in time for a park showdown that takes a rather dark turn.

The Rounders features a tremendous array of physical gags, with Chaplin and Arbuckle blending together perfectly as a comic team. Chaplin wisely chooses to underscore the size difference by pairing himself with the larger Allen and handing Arbuckle’s character the more petite Durfee. This sets up a complementary sight gag from the get-go.

The violence is the catalyst for the escape of the husbands, but there are some neat layers. Witness how Durfee clotheslines Arbuckle and raises her arms like a professional wrestler. She does this on more than one occasion, like she’s cheering herself to victory over her good-for-nothing hubby.

Similarly, Allen beats the tar out of Chaplin. Check out the pillow shots. This rampant physical abuse sets the stage for the subsequent stealing of the wives’ money, which in turn facilitates the outing to the club. The wives momentarily turn their vehemence on each other, but it doesn’t take long for them to remember who the real foes are.

There is such beauty to the physical comedy of Arbuckle and Chaplin, from the movements in the upgraded hotel hall to the naptime shenanigans at the club. Sometimes there’s too much to look at, like when Arbuckle sets up his feet in the champagne carrier while Chaplin messes around with a bald guy.

And Chaplin’s timing is, by now, impeccable. Everything from his entrance to his departure in the sinking boat is well-designed and Arbuckle is an movingly physical companion. The way the two of them seek peace and quiet is the stuff of extraordinary companionship and they display a familiarity in rhythm and ability that’s too seldom seen.

The Rounders is one of the best of the early Chaplin comedies. It is one of the best of the Keystone Studios outings and its contrasting of Arbuckle’s lumbering nature with Chaplin’s stylish inebriation is classic. The picture confirms the two leads as comedy legends and as masters of beautiful pratfalls.

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