DOG'S LIFE, A (Charles Chaplin, 1918, USA, 33m, BW)
Cast: Edna Purviance, Charles Chaplin, Tom Wilson, Sidney Chaplin
Director: Charles Chaplin
Writer: Charles Chaplin
Running Time: 40 min.
A Dog's Life is a 1918 American short silent film written, produced and directed by Charlie Chaplin. This was Chaplin's first film for First National Films. Chaplin plays opposite an animal as "co-star". "Scraps" (the dog) was the hero in this film, as he helps Charlie and Edna toward a better life. Edna Purviance plays a dance hall singer and Charlie Chaplin, The Tramp. Sydney Chaplin (Chaplin's brother) had a small role in this film; this was the first time the two brothers were on screen together. Charles Lapworth, a former newspaper editor who had met Chaplin when he interviewed him, took a role as a consultant on the film.
For Charles Chaplin ("The Immigrant"/"The Pilgrim "/"The Kid") this was his first release for First National Studio and his first three-reeler. It was the first film to make $1 million. The film has numerous sight gags and physical comedy, with an appealing Charlie trying to overcome poverty, unemployment and the harshness of streetlife for the disenfranchised. These realistic conditions provide the comedy with a social conscience.
Charlie plays the Little Tramp, an unemployed bum sleeping in an empty lot on the streets in the inner city of Los Angeles. When a mongrel dog named Scraps is attacked by a bunch of stray dogs, Charlie rescues him and the two bond. Charlie puts Scraps in his pocket and sneaks him into the tough Green Lantern bar, where he meets the innocent bar singer (Edna Purviance) stuck working for bullies who order her to lure customers to buy drinks. The Little Tramp gets the boot by the gruff dance hall owner (Granville Redmond) when he doesn't buy the singer a beer.
While stealing food from a lunchwagon owner (Syd Chaplin, Charlie's brother), Charlie's spotted by a policeman and flees. Meanwhile a drunken high hat swell is mugged by two ruffians and when the cop stops chasing Charlie, he chases them. The thief with the wallet buries it in the lot where Charlie sleeps and later when retiring, Scraps digs it up. The now wealthy Charlie goes back to the Green Lantern to woo the singer. After a few tussles with the ruffians over the stolen billfold, Charlie prevails. In a happy ending, Charlie winds up living in an idylic country home with the singer and Scraps.
The plot was simple, but revealed much more thought than many of his previous films. Once again cast as his popular tramp character, Chaplin saves a stray from a group of attacking dogs, then fights to keep them both alive despite unemployment and starvation. When he sneaks the dog into a dance hall, it helps him save singer Edna Purviance (Chaplin's principal leading lady at the time) from mobsters and recovers a stolen wallet that gives them the money to start a new life.
Throughout all this, Chaplin linked the tramp's and the singer's actions to the dog's, often cutting between scenes in which they appeared in similar dilemmas. This use of association as the basis for plot construction gave him a way to string together what in earlier films had been simply a series of disparate gags. Years later, he would say that though it restricted his ability to use any gag he thought of, it ultimately made his films funnier and deeper. In addition, he used his comedy to explore some harsh realities of life: poverty, unemployment and prostitution among them.
The opening of a new film studio for one of the world's most famous actors was a major news event, and Chaplin's studio was flooded with visitors. At first, he imposed no restrictions on the guest list. Then two men claiming to be journalists were caught eavesdropping on a production meeting. A quick search revealed that in three days they had stolen sketches of sets for A Dog's Life, notes from story meetings and character descriptions.
From then on Chaplin had to approve of visitors, though there was still a stream of guests, including Scottish stage comic Harry Lauder, who shared gags with Chaplin as cameras recorded the meeting of two comic legends. By some accounts, it was Lauder who suggested the film's title. Chaplin had started production under the title I Should Worry, but Lauder's statement, "It's a dog's life you're leadin' these days, Charlie" fit the film perfectly. Many critics have noted that the film contrasts the dog's life led not just by Mutt, but by Chaplin and Purviance's characters as well.
The dogs themselves posed some problems in production. Some were more independent than most human actors, leading to fights on set. Along with receipts for dog's meat, the props department's records include orders for a large syringe and 65 cents' worth of ammonia to be used to break up dog fights.
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