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.
Also known as A Fair Exchange, Charlie Chaplin’s 1914 silent short film Getting Acquainted is pretty standard fare. Filmed in Westlake Park over the course of a day, this is a slighter work even by Keystone Studios standards. Frank D. Williams supplies the cinematography, while Chaplin directs, writes and stars.
This is a pretty typical park comedy from Keystone. It involves plenty of chasing and beating around the proverbial bush and it seems to have a few too many characters, with Cecile Arnold and Glen Cavender playing a surplus couple and Edgar Kennedy using his nightstick like a phallic boomerang.
Chaplin stars as the husband of Phillis Allen’s character. They’re out for a day in the park. Chaplin’s character has wandering eyes and he flirts with Arnold’s character until he finds out that her boyfriend (Cavender) has a knife. He moves along to another woman (Mabel Normand), who’s wedded to Mack Swain’s character.
Lucky for Chaplin’s character, Swain’s character doesn’t have much of a problem introducing his wife to other men. She calls for the policeman (Kennedy) after Chaplin’s man is a little loose with his libido. Hijinks ensue and Swain’s character finds some level of attraction with Allen’s character. The presumably uneven couples eventually meet and all is well.
There’s a lot of chasing and whatnot in Getting Acquainted and there aren’t many bits that stand out, although Chaplin gets in a hysterical sequence when he blames his cane for hitting on Normand. It’s as respectable a dodge as he’s managed in a long while, especially after the reprehensible cane hoists Normand’s skirt.
It’s worth noting that Getting Acquainted doesn’t feature the brick-throwing stuff of other Keystone Studios efforts and that may or may not be a good thing. Those who appreciate the more impactful end of slapstick comedy won’t find much of value, as Charlie barely notices when a guy stabs him in the ass.
The wife-swapping dynamic is suggested to a certain extent, although the last shots seem to confirm that the madness was part of larger confusion. Chaplin wouldn’t have trifled with Normand had he known that she was devoted to Swain and Swain wouldn’t have philandered with Allen had he known she was with Chaplin. Or something.
Or maybe there is no such moral stand. Maybe the nodding and winking between tangled parties indicates that the way home is pregnant with possibilities. Maybe the action behind closed doors spreads beyond the boundaries of Keystone’s park comedy and into the dominion of something decidedly more provocative.
Regardless of the conclusion one draws from Getting Acquainted, there’s not a lot going on in this short. It’s a scanty effort and doesn’t build on the precision of such pictures as His Trysting Place, which shared the park setting but seemed more evolved in its exploration of coupledom.