The Charlie Chaplin Festival was released in 1938, and as the name implies, it isn’t so much a film as it is a collection of four of Chaplin’s short films from 1917. The four short films included are The Immigrant, The Adventurer, The Cure, and Easy Street. Though the shorts are labelled as “chapters” in the film, they are unconnected to each other in both theme and story. However, there are a few actors who show up in each film. Besides Charlie Chaplin himself, there is Edna Purviance, who as usual is playing a sweet innocent young woman in each short for Chaplin’s characters to fixate upon and woo. Additionally, Eric Campbell appears in different roles in each short as an obstacle for Chaplin’s characters to overcome in some form or other; sometimes he’s a romantic rival, other times he’s just a neighborhood bully. In all cases, Campbell’s wild-eyed takes help sell the story.
Unfortunately, the “festival” is a bit lacking, as the film isn’t particularly well-edited. The transitions from one short to the next are handled very abruptly — and in some cases seem like there’s a bit of the short cut off at the end. Additionally, sound effects have been added in places, and they don’t work very well in the otherwise silent films. So even when the shorts themselves are good, I would recommend viewing them on their own rather than in this collection.
The first short in the festival is The Immigrant, featuring Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character coming to New York from overseas. On the boat, he meets Purviance, and befriends her by helping to take care of her and her mother. This sequence is a bit lackluster by Chaplin’s standards, as there aren’t very many funny gags, and a lot of what there is is ruined by the added sound effects (this short is the worst in that regard). Once the Tramp reaches the mainland, the laughs pick up a bit when he goes to get food at a restaurant where Campbell is playing the head waiter. It doesn’t turn into full-on slapstick, but there are some nice comedic beats as the waiter tries to get the Tramp to behave (such as by taking off his hat), and as the Tramp realizes he doesn’t actually have the money to pay for his meal, and tries to connive a way to do it. Unfortunately, I found it a bit too little too late for this short, as it spends too much time just trying to be sweet and sentimental early on.
Following it is The Adventurer, a short film which is somewhat misnamed. Chaplin isn’t playing some wilderness adventurer, as the title might imply; rather, he’s an escaped convict. We see him dig his way out onto a beach, only to find the police already there waiting for him. A merry chase ensues, and along the way and with some great slapstick, he winds up rescuing Purviance, another woman, and Campbell from drowning; unaware, they invite him to their home, though Campbell’s character is displeased at this romantic rival. The slapstick continues in the home, as of course the police pursuit eventually catches up. This one is a bit funnier, and has some pretty good gags and good comic timing. It’s still not one of Chaplins’ best, but it’s probably the best of the bunch.
The third film, The Cure, has Chaplin playing an alcoholic checking into a health resort — though not without his suitcase full of wine bottles. This film is almost pure slapstick, and has some good comic sequences in it. And, viewed solely on that merit, it’s pretty good. However, it’s so thin on narrative — even by short film standards — that it was hard for me to figure out what the premise even was at first, and there are some gags that I think would probably play better to an audience that was more familiar with the health resorts of the time. Even so, for just mindless laughs, it’s not half bad.
The festival closes out with Easy Street, which has the Tramp take up the uniform of a police officer. Honestly, just the sight of Chaplin doing that Tramp walk in the uniform is worth the price of admission. And the fight scene between Chaplin and Campbell is hilarious. If the short has one flaw, it’s that it is, ironically, too long. After the fight scene, there’s a romantic interlude with Purviance, and then a second fight scene with Campbell. While the second fight scene is all right, it’s not as good as the first one, and the romance scene frankly drags. The short would have been better had it ended after the first fight scene. It would have been rather like a live-action cartoon, but it would have been a great one. As it is, it’s still a good short, it’s just a bit flawed.
None of these are great Chaplin shorts, and a couple of them I found to be pretty lacking. But they’ve all got some laughs here and there. I’m finding — not just with these but with a lot of Chaplin’s work — that the romantic scenes tend to be the weak parts of the films, and it’s largely because Edna Purviance doesn’t seem to have a purpose other than to sit there and look pretty. And Chaplin’s characters have a tendency to settle down their antics when around Purviance, and since those antics are the main reason to watch, things get kind of slow there. Still, some of these shorts can be fun even with the slow segments. But I’d still advise watching them individually rather than viewing the Festival version with the added sound effects.
The Charlie Chaplin Festival (overall):