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 Chester Conklin display terrific chemistry in the 1914 silent short comedy Those Love Pangs. This is another Keystone Studios romp with a romantic competition at the core, but things take a different slant. Chaplin directs this one, while Mack Sennett is the producer and Frank D. Williams is the cinematographer.
Those Love Pangs was considered under the working title of In Wrong, with other options including The Rival Mashers and Busted Hearts. Chaplin has laboured under the concept of the “masher” before, with many Keystone outings featuring a battle for some particular woman or another. This version packs a twist.
Chaplin stars as a masher and Conklin is his rival. The two fellows can’t stop fighting over any woman they see. This includes the landlady, who may or may not be played by Peggy Page, Gene Marsh or Helen Carruthers. The men take their act outside, where they hit the park and try their luck.
Somehow, Conklin’s character hooks up with a hot blonde (Cecile Arnold). Chaplin’s masher can’t believe his eyes and he wanders after a beautiful brunette (Vivian Edwards) until he discovers she has a “boyfriend” (Fred Fishback). This leads to a brouhaha, which in turn leads Chaplin to follow the women into the movies. And that, as you might imagine, goes awry.
While Those Love Pangs seems typical on the surface, Chaplin infuses it with a number of unique aspects. For starters, he’s changed his game. While he still tangles with his rival for the affections of a woman, the women are different and the approach is exceptional.
The women in this case appear to be prostitutes, with both the blonde and the brunette literally latching on to any man they see. This interesting turn of events is underlined by a few behavioural clues, like how the blonde has money in her shoe or how Chaplin makes a decision about what to spend his cash on.
As for the approach, Chaplin loses out. Now, full knowledge of the nature of these women may prove precisely why Chaplin loses out (hint: he’s short of cash). But the filmmaker’s structure leaves the questions hanging like the masher’s pocket watch, which is a rather indicative tick.
Like the aforementioned pocket watch gag, Those Love Pangs features a number of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bits. One occurs when Chaplin’s character tangles with the “boyfriend” in the park. The masher tries to put his hat on and misses, representing his utter fear in the arms of the bigger man. And yet he fights on, coming up with a method on the fly that sticks the clown in the drink.
Notably, Chaplin is on the bottom of the heap. He’s the third option, the last man at bat. In other masher-related ventures, his protagonist is on an even keel and he’s more jerk than underdog. Here, he’s just a down-on-his-luck dude looking for a swing.
Chaplin infuses his character with no shortage of pathos. He sighs when he sees Conklin’s character get the girl and he can’t take it. He can’t explain it either, especially when the hot blonde drops to her knees as Conklin’s suspended pants start to sag. It’s an evocative move, to say the least.
Those Love Pangs is a very provocative comedy and that’s a good thing. Chaplin is playing less with love and more with sex, as those “pangs” are less the wiles of all-time commitment and more the cravings of a more abrupt reward. And in that sense, this is one of his most daring early shorts.