The Pawnshop is another of Charlie Chaplin’s short, silent films. Released in 1916, it also features frequent co-stars Edna Purviance and Eric Campbell, along with Henry Bergman and John Rand. As one might guess from the title, it takes place at a pawnbroker’s shop, where Chaplin’s character finds work as a new employee, and the comedy arises from Chaplin’s bungling.
Though the opening is very similar to Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” works, with his character being out of work and finding employment at an odd locale, the character Chaplin plays here isn’t quite the same as the Tramp. He’s not as meek and self-effacing as the Tramp; in fact, in many ways, he’s a bit of a jerk. He gets into frequent fist-fights with his coworker (Rand), and can be inconsiderate to the customers, having a very careless attitude to the property they come in to pawn.
Your ticker’s stopped.
Chaplin’s slapstick is the highlight of this short, and while the ladder gag may be old hat in 2012, in 1916 it was still fairly fresh, and Chaplin’s rendition of it is at least very well done. Plus, the fights he gets into with his co-worker are fairly entertaining. Unfortunately, when the short moves away from the slapstick, there isn’t much to be entertained by.
Some scenes even feel as though they don’t really fit in a silent film. There’s a sequence in which an old actor (James T. Kelley) comes into the pawn shop. He goes on in an extended monologue (silent film, remember, and there are no title cards), which lasts for several minutes. We get the sense that there’s a weeper of a sob story in his plight… and then he has Chaplin’s character make change for him without buying or selling anything. The setup and the joke both wind up feeling like they would have been better served in a talkie, even though the film was made a long time before that was a possibility.
The Pawnshop has some good gags in it, and the slapstick is very well done. But it fails to be a great short due to some scenes that just don’t offer much to the viewer. Ultimately, it is just an unremarkable little film, not likely to be remembered for any longer than it takes to watch it.