LITTLE TRAMP, THE [UNKNOWN FILM] (Charles Chaplin, 1916)
The Tramp, also known as The Little Tramp
aka Charlie the Tramp (1916)
aka Charlie on the Farm (1916)
aka Der Tramp (1916)
aka Charlie the Hobo (1916)
aka Charlot vagabondo (1916)
aka Little Tramp, The (1916)
aka Tramp, The (1916)
Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Produced by Jess Robbins
Written by Charlie Chaplin
Starring Charlie Chaplin
Cinematography Harry Ensign
Edited by Charlie Chaplin
Distributed by Essanay Studios
General Film Company
April 11, 1915
Country United States
Language Silent (English intertitles)
The Tramp is Charlie Chaplin's sixth film for Essanay Studios and was released in 1915. Directed by Chaplin, it was the fifth and last film made at Essanay's Niles, California studio. The Tramp marked the beginning of The Tramp character most known today, even though Chaplin played the character in earlier films. This film marked the first departure from his more slapstick character in the earlier films, with a sad ending and showing he cared for others, rather than just himself. The film co-stars Edna Purviance as the farmer's daughter and Ernest Van Pelt as Edna's father. The outdoor scenes were filmed on location near Niles. Like many American films of the time, The Tramp was subject to cuts by city and state film censorship boards. For example, the Chicago Board of Censors cut, in Reel 1, the scene of Chaplin sitting in a sewage drainage pipe after burning his posterior.
The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) finds the girl of his dreams and works on a family farm. He helps defend the farm against criminals, and all seems well, until he discovers the girl of his dreams already has a boyfriend. Unwilling to be a problem in their lives, he takes to the road, though he is seen skipping and swinging his cane as if happy to be back on the road where he knows he belongs.
Chaplin upped the pathos ante considerably in his next film, The Tramp, which was a first draft of virtually all his later work. We meet Chaplin as a hungry yet fastidious tramp, who is never too hungry to dine “correctly.” His good manners naturally lead to the theft of his food by a “bad” tramp, leaving Charlie to dine on grass. Minutes later, he rescues farmer’s daughter Edna from a gang of bad tramps. In gratitude, Edna’s father takes Charlie in.
Charlie returns the favor by half beating the old man to death in the course of helping with the chores, but then further ingratiates himself by foiling a robbery attempt by the tramps, getting wounded in the process. Charlie falls in love with Edna when she cares for him, but then the arrival of a “poet,” whom Edna clearly loves, opens his eyes. He leaves a Huck Finnish note, “I thort your kindness was love but it ain’t cause I seen him good bye,” and departs without a farewell. We see him walking first slowly down the road and then determinedly kicking up his heels to drive away the hurt.
“The Tramp,” famously, is where Chaplin’s famous character began to show some sympathetic traits, and to represent the “little man” in his struggle to survive in a world he doesn’t fit in to. Previous Chaplins often made the Little Tramp out to be more aggressive, somewhat less appealing, or drunkenly foolish. There would sometimes be moments of sympathy, but these would often be undercut by the motives of revenge or the general chaos of the slapstick situation. The Little Tramp we see in “The Tramp” is far more human and easier to identify with, even if one wonders how long it’s been since he showered and whether inviting him into the house is such a good idea.
The story begins with Charlie walking along a roadside, being knocked over as some cars go by, then pulling out a whisk broom from his pocket to dust himself off, to good comedic effect. Already, we get the sense of a man who is a) homeless and b) eccentric, as well as his inability to cope with the modern world, in the form of the automobiles. Soon, he encounters Edna Purviance, a farmer’s daughter, who is being set upon by a robber, who wants to take the money she got from her father to go to market. Charlie, wielding his hobo’s bindle, is able to drive the man off and protect her. But, it turns out that there are two other robbers nearby, each a bit taller and meaner-looking than the last. Charlie takes them out one at a time, then accidentally sits in their campfire, and must run about in search of water to put out his flaming pants. The slapstick here is fast and thick, with only one intertitle interrupting the action, to make sure we know that the robbers’ motive is money, not something more salacious.
Purviance and Chaplin were said to be romantically involved at the time (they never married, which may have been the best thing all around, given how Charlie’s marriages tended to go badly). Their apparent attraction for each other, particularly his for her, helps drive the movie forward. The Little Tramp likes this girl, and is more interested in her than her money. That’s the only motivation we need to understand his actions for the duration of the film, and it’s entirely believable. We see them at mid-shot as each is introduced, giving us a chance to feel close to them, but most of the acting is broad and farcical, so we don’t need, or get, intense close-ups on faces. This is not high drama, but pure comedy.
With a combination false bravado and sleight of hand, the tramp makes like Bugs Bunny (only before there was a Bugs Bunny) and, one by one, chases them off. Then, true to form, the little tramp immediately embarrasses himself in front of the farmer’s daughter by accidentally sitting in the smoldering remains of the three villainous thieves' campfire. He then runs away with his behind smoking and finds some water to sit in. Cue steam rising from the water. I wonder if this was the first time that gag was ever used in a movie?
Anyway, as you probably guessed, the little tramp winds up working for the farmer, falling in love with the girl and saving her from the same three dastardly thieves when they attempt a burglary. The tramp gets injured in the process and is tenderly nursed by the girl. His love grows stronger. But then cruel fate steps in with the arrival of the girl's handsome betrothed. The little tramp sadly leaves the girl a note and then departs alone. Of all the Charlie Chaplin two-reelers I've seen, this one has the most heart. In that respect it is the most like his longer films.
Nearly everything about this short is archetypal. It’s THE classic story about the farmer’s daughter told in an iconic silent movie style. And with this movie Chaplin fully realized his little tramp character. The finishing touch being the final shot and fade-out. This was the very first time Charlie shrugs, puts his hobo stick over his shoulder and shuffles off into the sunset, on to the next adventure and straight into Hollywood legend.
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