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Although Chaplin still had many kinks to work out of his Little Tramp
character by the time he made this, his fourth movie, Between Showers
nonetheless shows tremendous improvement over his first attempts at
developing a screen persona. In the first, Making a Living, he played a rich
villain. In Kid Races at Venice and Mabel's Strange Predicament, the Tramp
made his debut, but was portrayed as a rather mean-spirited, and in the
Mabel Normand film, almost lecherous, jerk.
But Between Showers, for the first time, presents the Little Tramp as a somewhat noble, almost heroic character, who comes to the aid of a damsel in distress (here portrayed by an Edna Purviance prototype). He still has rough edges, but Chaplin was starting to flesh out the character.
The plot of Between Showers is an illustration of how delightfully simple and high concept early silent comedies could be. A man steals an umbrella -- that's pretty much the plot, with a little (attempted) romance tossed in for good measure. It's a fun little film, and fascinating to watch from the perspective of observing how Chaplin is slowly crafting his most famous character.
Chaplin's fourth short, appearing less than a month after his debut, is good fun. A rival tramp steals an umbrella from a policeman, then sets about seducing a woman with it. Charlie also has his eye on the femme, and soon a battle for both the brolly and the girl ensues. Even though it's so early in his career, Chaplin has most of the Little Tramp mannerisms and tics down pat in this effort (except for the pathos, which would come later), and it's fascinating to see the beginnings of the expressions and gags which he'd be exploring for the rest of his life. Not as polished or imaginative as his later films, but a very early gem.
In this comedy short we see a man steal an umbrella from a police
officer. After a big shower the man who stole the umbrella wants to
help a woman cross the street without getting her feet wet. While he is
looking for things she can walk on, Charles Chaplin enters the film. He
also wants to help the woman. While Chaplin is looking for useful
things as well the woman is carried across the street by a police
officer. Chaplin and the man who stole the umbrella have a fight.
With some of the usual Chaplin moments 'Between Showers' is entertaining enough to watch, but it misses the magic of Chaplin's later work. We see some little things from his famous tramp, one moment when he is walking away with the umbrella in particular, but it is not enough to really recommend this short. There are many better Chaplin shorts, but if you like his work you probably enjoy this one as well.
In Kid Auto Races at Venice, Chaplin first tried on the costume of the
little Tramp, and was clearly unsure what to do with it. He wandered
around and made himself seen, making it clear that he wanted to be
noticed and had something to show the world, but he still wasn't sure
what the personality of his character was. In Mabel's Strange
Predicament, he tries something new, and finds that it went wrong. Now,
in Between Showers, we have another example of the incredible, almost
prophetic foreshadowing and symbolism that we saw in Kid Auto Races.
Whereas in his last film, he was an obnoxious, belligerent drunk, in
Between Showers he decides to try helping people. Not only that, but
within the first few minutes of the film, he is literally testing out
the waters. And as we would see in the years to come, the experiment
worked with phenomenal success.
What Chaplin also largely discovers in this film is the hyperbolic fight scene, exaggerated to cartoonish proportions for the benefit of the slightly fast motion and the absence of close-ups, which provides a comic effect sufficient to inspire years of including similar scenes in future films. The plot is simple, as they were in those days, and concerns the varying degrees of possession of an umbrella, with hilarious results, as they say. Between Showers probably marks the last major change for the Tramp that we would ever see, since Chaplin got it nearly perfect here. Let the show begin
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Reviewers here so far seem to be apologizing that this isn't a later
Chaplin film. Perhaps if they understood the circumstances under which
it was made, they would appreciate it for what it is.
In 1913, Mack Sennett had contracted to produce three one reel comedies a week. By the end of 1913, they were so popular that he contracted to produce four. Producing 30 minutes of comedy every week was strenuous. Everybody at Keystone felt overworked. Now they were commanded to produce four reels Lead comedian Fred Mace had quit in June 1913. His replacement, Ford Sterling told Sennett that he was getting better offers and would also quit soon. Sennett hired vaudeville comedian Charlie Chaplin to replace Ford. The problem was that Chaplin had never made a film before. He was about to enter a comedy factory where he would be punched, slapped, kicked, pushed and fall down again and again for 12 hours a day, six days a week, 50 weeks a year.
Ford was gracious enough to stay on for a few months to help Chaplin get accustomed to the pace. This is a film that was probably written for Sterling by Lehrman. Sterling has the starring role. If Chaplin had not signed with Keystone, probably Lehrman himself or Eddie Dillon or a half dozen other actors at keystone could have played the part or the rival lover that Chaplin plays. It was a simple Keystone formula picture: two men fight over the same beautiful girl. Chaos breaks out. Cops come. A chase ensues and when it ends so does the picture.
The movie begins as its title says "Between Showers." It has rained and Ford Sterling's umbrella has been ruined. He is going to steal an umbrella. What is great about Sterling is that he talks directly to the audience. He tells them exactly what he is going to do. He breaks the separation between the audience and the actor (the invisible fourth wall). Sterling talks to the audience like they're his best friend. He tells the audience straight out, "Watch me while I steal this umbrella," as if he is doing something the audience is going to find daring and funny. It is a little strange that he would pick a cop to steal the umbrella from, but it just makes the silly heist even sillier.
At this point, we skip to Sterling being noble and helping a pretty woman, Peggy Pearce across a street. The street is flooded and she will get soaked if she tries to cross it. Sterling foolishly gives her his newly stolen umbrella and goes to find a board to help her cross. At this point he first encounter the tramp, Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin also finds the woman quite fetching and he also tries to help her. Sterling and Chaplin begin some great slap-stick fighting. This is the main motif for the rest of the film.
What is marvelous is how perfectly Sterling and Chaplin match. They both have perfect comic timing and look as if they have been working together for years. If Sterling was not about to leave Keystone and strike out on his own and if Chaplin had not just been hired, it is possible that they would have have been the movie's first great comedy team with the large sized Sterling finding the perfect foil and stooge in the small sized Chaplin. There is something wonderful in watching Chaplin getting knocked down, popping right up and fighting back and refusing to let the bigger sized Sterling intimidate him.
Again, you have to see Chaplin here as just an actor in a Keystone formula movie. The formula is funny, and Chaplin is executing it perfectly, but it is not really Chaplin's film. It would be another month before he would really start making his own films.
The writer-director Henry Pathe Lehrman, also deserves a lot of credit. He was apparently struggling bitterly with Chaplin to get him to adapt to Keystone's breakneck style and pace. For this round, at least, he won.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Chaplin's fourth film is also historic in that it demonstrates inklings of the tramp we would come to identify with in later films. The plot is simple like most them from this era. A man steals an umbrella from a policeman, attempts to help a lady across the rain-filled street and then is usurped by Chaplin in vying for both the umbrella and the lady. Chaplin eventually settles for the umbrella and battling with the man in typical exaggerated silent fashion. The film is notable for Chaplin turning from a heel into more of a lovable troublemaker, without the empathy and sentimentality we would find in later years. The swinging of the umbrella mirrors how Chaplin swings his cane in so many other films to come. Oddly enough, his cane is not present in this slight but more typical comedy from Chaplin. ** of 4 stars.
Between Showers (1914)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
After a rainy day a woman (Emma Bell Clifton) is trying to get across a muddy street when a man (Ford Sterling) offers to help but soon a Tramp (Charles Chaplin) tries to help as well. Soon the two men are fighting and others jump in. This was Chaplin's fourth film as an actor, the third playing the Tramp and in my opinion the first one where he could call himself the star. It's rather amazing to see how far advanced Chaplin was even though he hadn't yet turned the character into the masterpiece we all know him for. Just look at how Chaplin acts compared to everyone else in the film. I'm certainly not saying the others are bad but they are typical of what you'd see in a Keystone film and then there's Chaplin doing his magic. The first five minutes are the best when Chaplin is losing his balance as he tries to flirt with the woman and eventually has one of his feet fall in. The joke that happens when he pulls his foot out is priceless. The rest of the film is rather routine and I doubt too many will find laughter but if you want to see Chaplin evolve then this here is important.
Chaplin is groomed like the tramp and he looks like the tramp but he
could be anybody in this disjointed tale about three mashers, a puddle,
and an umbrella.
The editing is poor enough to lose the plot from time to time, if there is a plot that extends beyond the individual slapstick-filled scenes.
The film has a certain slight charm as an historical curiosity. Here it is -- 1914 in Los Angeles, and what looks like Echo Park might have looked in 1914 Los Angeles.
A dog wanders innocently in and out of a scene but nobody cares. The pratfalls are backward somersaults. It's all very casual and lacks poetry.
Charlie Chaplin had only starred in a few movies and had just debuted
the Tramp when he appeared in Henry Lehrman's "Between Showers". The
plot involves a stolen umbrella, but is mainly an excuse for a bunch of
physical humor. Cinema was still in its relative infancy, and the
absence of sound meant that people had to do a lot of the acting with
their faces. Despite the simple plot, it's a fun 15 minutes. It's
ironic seeing a city block in LA surrounded by water, now that
California's running out of water.
Anyway, pretty fun. Chester Conklin (the policeman) later played the technician in "Modern Times".
Just watched this, an early Charlie Chaplin performance in a Keystone-Mack Sennett film, on the Internet Archive site. It only showed 8 minutes of what according to this site was 15 minutes of this short but what I did see was quite funny and fascinating nonetheless. In this one, a masher (Ford Sterling) steals a cop's umbrella, unbeknownst to the cop, and encounters a woman who's trying to cross a water-flooded street which he sees as an opportunity to woo her. Chaplin's Tramp character arrives at this point and tries to to the same. There's a funny bit where he almost falls into the water. After this come a few more highly amusing stuff in which Charlie and Ford start to poke each other before the thing abruptly ends. Like I said, I found the thing quite amusing so on that note, Between Showers is worth a look. P.S. A few minutes ago, I watched much of the rest on YouTube so it seems I've now seen the entire short.
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