ONE A.M. (Charles Chaplin, 1916, USA, 34m, BW)
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Edward Brewer (technical director)
Produced by Henry P. Caulfield
Written by Charles Chaplin (scenario)
Vincent Bryan (scenario)
Maverick Terrell (scenario)
Starring Charles Chaplin
Cinematography William C. Foster
Edited by Charles Chaplin
Distributed by Mutual Film Corporation
August 7, 1916
2 Reels (full length unknown)
c. 34 mins.
Country United States
Language Silent film
One A.M. was a unique Charlie Chaplin silent film created for Mutual Film in 1916. It was the first film he starred in alone, except for a brief scene of Albert Austin playing a cab driver.
The film opens with a scene of a wealthy young man (Chaplin) arriving at his house in a taxi late at night after a night of heavy drinking. He struggles with the car door when exiting the car and then in paying the taxi driver (Albert Austin). When he gets to his front door, he thinks that he has forgotten the key and has to enter through the window. While climbing in through the window, he steps into a fishbowl that's placed underneath it and then almost falls down when the carpet underneath him slides. After finding his balance again, he goes through his pockets and realises that the key has been there all the while. He goes back through the window and enters through the front door.
Inside the house, the furniture and other inanimate objects become almost insurmountable obstacles for the drunk. He struggles to balance on the sliding carpets and wonders whether he is wearing skates. Falling down, he lands between a tiger rug and a stuffed Eurasian lynx, which terrify him as he thinks they are real. He goes over to the table and tries to pour himself a drink, but first he accidentally spins the table top around and then does not manage to pour the drinks inside a glass. He then unsuccessfully attempts to light a cigarette, and then tries to head up the stairs to his bedroom. He fails several times in climbing them; a large cuckoo clock on the upstairs landing also poses a problem. He becomes increasingly creative with his attempts to climb the stairs, for example by using mountain climbing gear.
When he finally reaches his bedroom, he struggles to open his Murphy bed and ends up wrecking it. He gives up on the idea of sleeping in his bed and goes to bathroom. He enters the shower and accidentally turns it on. Soaked, he then gets into the bathtub and falls asleep under a towel.
Other than a scene at the beginning, Chaplin is the only actor in the film. At one A.M., a drunk Chaplin arrives home via a taxi. He fumbles and stumbles his way out of the cab. He proceeds into his home where he literally gets into a fight with it. Whether it is the table, stairs or stuffed animals, everything in his house seems to be working against him. I like how the rugs slide under him. "I must have a skate on." He says to himself.
The entire film is Chaplin doing slapstick by himself. One could argue that this is his genius. He makes it all look so fluid. How much rehearsal did he do? Was some of this made up as he went? He never stops moving and it is a short film, but he drags some jokes out, such as the bed not cooperating. The scene where he arrives in the taxi is supposed to take place at 1AM, hence the title. Clearly it does not. The day is light out, and the street behind him constantly has cars going by as well as a trolley and someone on a bicycle.
The movie is all him, except for the brief appearance of Albert Austin, and doesn’t let up for a second. It was probably one of the cheapest movies he made for Mutual (which may be why he made it after comparably high-budget pieces like “The Fireman”). Again, we see the more fluid camerawork of Roland Totheroh, which demonstrates that Charlie didn’t need to be locked into little boxes to be funny.
The camera follows him up and down the stairs several times, which works better than editing between the stages would have. The first part of the film, downstairs, emphasizes the drunk’s inability to deal with ordinary things like doors and rugs, but with the spinning table and the dead animals, things become increasingly odd. Then, when he gets upstairs to the gigantic cuckoo clock and the Murphy bed, it seems as though his world has become a surreal mechanical obstacle course. These sections remind me particularly strongly of Jacques Tati and his character Hulot’s constant problems with technology.
With this deceptively simple two-reeler for Mutual, Charlie Chaplin returns to his roots playing a funny drunk for laughs, but demonstrates his advancement as an artist by milking the concept for all it’s worth. Chaplin’s unique style dominates the screen for the entire run time, and hardly a single opportunity for laughs is missed.
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