Pay Day (1922)

I’m certain that comedic short films are a difficult medium to create for, and they definitely present different challenges than a long-form movie. There isn’t much time to develop characters, construct an intricate plot, or to set up gags that will pay off later on. When it’s an older film, such as Pay Day, with the constraints of a silent film, it has to be particularly difficult.

Pay Day was Charlie Chaplin’s final short; after this, he only created feature-length films. He wrote, directed, produced, and scored the short film, as well as starring in it. Supposedly it was one of his favorites of his short films. But watching it, I have to admit I didn’t find it as impressive or as funny as his feature, The Circus.

A novel approach to the wiener wrap.

I suppose part of the problem might very well be that this is a short created in 1922, and I’m watching it with eight decades of intervening pop culture. Certainly with such an early creation date, virtually all of the “cliches” it exhibits are essentially its own creation, or at least new enough at the time to not have been tired back then. It’s certainly not Chaplin’s fault that I’ve seen the overbearing boss (Mack Swain) and the shrewish wife (Phyllis Allen) character stereotypes in hundreds of other films. But in a short format, there’s no room to create more depth to these supporting characters, so they don’t really become interesting in their own right, and the interactions Chaplin’s worker character has with them are mundane and prosaic. Worse — and this is something I have to hold Chaplin accountable for — there really isn’t anything all that funny about these interactions. He gets brow-beaten, but not in a comical way, and there’s no sort of comic payback for their abuse of him. He just gets abused, and gets out of their way, and that’s really all there is to it.

There are some funny bits here and there, particularly with the work elevator sequence, but most of it simply lacks the energy or sense of purpose that was in The Circus. It’s a few simple gags, and some repetitive jokes that don’t seem to have the same sense of timing that is shown in his other work. Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t find myself laughing very much; since this is a comedy short, that’s a pretty serious problem.

One little side note: Just in case you’ve ever wondered how long Hollywood has been billing actors more prominently than their parts warranted, the answer is “at least 80 years”. Chaplin’s frequent co-star Edna Purviance is given secondary billing on this short, but her role as the foreman’s daughter is utterly inconsequential. It’s only a small part of the film, she doesn’t really interact with Chaplin’s character, and nothing funny happens around her or because of her. She’s there essentially for there to be a role for Edna Purviance, and the short could have been written without the character without changing anything.

I wanted to like this, I really did. I’ve enjoyed other silent comedies, so it’s not that. It’s just that this one doesn’t really have anything particularly funny to laugh at. It’s still well-crafted, it’s just not really worth checking out.

Rating: 2 Stars

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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