PAWNSHOP, THE (Charles Chaplin, 1916, USA, 25m, BW)
Cast: Charles Chaplin, Eric Campbell, Charlotte Mineau, James T. Kelley, Henry Bergman, Edna Purviance, John Rand, Albert Austin, Wesley Ruggles
Director: Charles Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin
Writer: Charles Chaplin, Vincent Bryan, Maverick Terrell
Running Time: 25 min.
Chaplin plays an assistant in a pawnshop run by Bergman. He engages in a slapstick battles with his fellow pawnshop assistant, deals with eccentric customers, and flirts with the pawnbroker's daughter. One customer, posing as a jewelry buyer, pulls a gun and tries to rob the place. Chaplin disarms him.
The Pawnshop was Charlie Chaplin's sixth film for Mutual Film Corporation. Released on October 2, 1916, it stars Chaplin in the role of assistant to the pawnshop owner, played by Henry Bergman. Edna Purviance plays the owner's daughter, while Albert Austin appears as an alarm clock owner who watches Chaplin in dismay as he dismantles the clock; the massive Eric Campbell's character attempts to rob the shop. This was one of Chaplin's more popular movies for Mutual, mainly for the slapstick comedy he was famous for at the time.
The Pawnshop is a “Charlie on the job” film, quite funny without being all that memorable, with the “marry the old Jew’s daughter” twist right out of The Merchant of Venice. Chaplin followed The Pawnshop with Behind the Screen, another “inside Hollywood” film. Edna, desperate to break into pictures, disguises herself as a man and gets a job as a stagehand. When Charlie observes “him” applying makeup, he breaks into derisively effeminate behavior until Edna reveals herself as a woman. Then when Eric Campbell catches them kissing, he starts capering like a gay hippopotamus. Later, there’s an elaborate bit about the invention of pie-fights.
Although there is some good stuff in this movie, a lot of it feels recycled, such as the bit about Charlie using his slapstick skills to stop a robbery and the cleaning sequence which is very similar to “The Bank.” One brief gag I didn’t mention was a quick re-do of the opening to “The Bank,” where Charlie opens a safe and takes out his workclothes. This, time, about halfway through, he goes to a safe, quickly turns the combination seemingly at random, and takes out his lunch. It isn’t as funny or surprising this time. My favorite parts were the whole ladder sequence and the scenes where Charlie is “helping” (or being bilked by) the customers. His character is less “innocent” and likeable than in “The Vagabond,” for example, but one still sees him as sympathetic – he’s a victim of circumstances and it’s hard to blame him if he wants to get back at some of the people who mistreat him. The romance between him and Edna is decidedly downplayed in this movie.
In 1916, Charlie Chaplin became the highest paid entertainer in the world when he signed a contract with Mutual for a salary of $670,000 per year. Mutual built Chaplin his very own studio and allowed him total freedom to make twelve two-reel films during this fruitful twelve-month period. Chaplin subsequently recognized this period of film-making as the most inventive and liberating of his career, although he also had concerns that the films produced were increasingly formulaic during the length of his contract.
During 1916 and 1917, the Lone Star Film Company had Charlie Chaplin working at their studio at 1025 Lillian Way, in Hollywood. Charlie Chaplin moved on to found United Artists in 1919 with Mary Pickford, D. W. Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks. In 1919, Mutual Film Corporation ceased production. Like many other companies established at this time, Mutual was eventually absorbed by larger corporations, in this case Film Booking Offices of America and later RKO Radio Pictures. With the exception of the Chaplin films, most of the Mutual shorts and feature dramas are lost to time and decomposition.
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