IDLE CLASS, THE (Charles Chaplin, 1921, USA, 32m, BW)
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Produced by Charles Chaplin
Written by Charles Chaplin
Starring Charles Chaplin
Music by Johnnie von Haines (1969)
Cinematography Roland Totheroh
Edited by Charles Chaplin
Charles Chaplin Productions
Distributed by First National
Playhouse Home Video (1985) (USA)
Key Video (1989) (USA) (VHS)
Image Entertainment (2000) (USA) (DVD)
Koch Vision (2000) (USA) (DVD)
MK2 Diffusion (2001) (World-wide) (all media)
Warner Home Video (2004, DVD)
Continental Home Vídeo (Brazil) (VHS)
September 25, 1921
Country United States
Language Silent film
The "Little Tramp" (Charlie Chaplin) heads to a resort for warm weather and a bit of golf. At the golf course, the Tramp's theft of balls in play causes one golfer (Mack Swain) to mistakenly attack another (John Rand). Meanwhile, a neglected wife (Edna Purviance) leaves her wealthy husband (also played by Chaplin) until he gives up drinking. When the Tramp is later mistaken for a pickpocket, he crashes a masquerade ball to escape from a policeman. There, he is mistaken for the woman's husband. Eventually, it is all straightened out, and the Tramp is once more on his way.
In April of 1918, Chaplin joined with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith to found the United Artists Corporation, organized as a distributor of the four artists' films, with each of them retaining entire control of his or her individual productions. For the first time, film stars became their own employers and received the profits that had formerly gone to producers. But before he could move ahead with this historic venture, and despite the huge success of The Kid, Chaplin still had to deliver four pictures under his contract to First National. "In a quiet state of desperation," according to his autobiography, he wandered through his studio's prop room hoping to find inspiration for a story idea. He found it in a set of old golf clubs, and golfing sequences from an unfinished Mutual production Chaplin started a few years earlier ("The Golf Links"); it became the genesis of The Idle Class (1921).
Called "Vanity Fair" while still in production, The Idle Class features Chaplin in dual roles as the familiar Tramp character and as a heavy-drinking wealthy man whose wife is feeling badly neglected. The Tramp and the Wife arrive in Miami on the same train (she in a coach, he under it). Upset that her husband has forgotten to meet her train, she moves out, telling her husband he must stop drinking before she returns. That afternoon, while causing mayhem on a nearby golf course, the Tramp spots the Wife and falls in love with her from afar. Running from the law, the Tramp ends up at the Wife's costume party. She mistakes him for her husband, preferring the gentle, attentive man to her true spouse. Mistaken identity forms the basis of the party sequence's comedy before everything is sorted out.
The film features a memorable scene in which Chaplin plays with the audience's perceptions. Upon receiving the message from his wife that she's leaving him unless he quits drinking, the husband gazes longingly at her picture and, shot from behind, appears to be sobbing. As he turns, however, we see he is vigorously working a cocktail shaker. The Tramp's chief nemesis in this movie is played by Mack Swain, who made nearly two dozen pictures with Chaplin, including most memorably The Gold Rush (1925) as the Tramp's rival prospector Big Jim McKay. The role of the Wife's maid is played by Lita Grey, who became Chaplin's wife from 1924 to 1927.
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