Charlie goes to the movie and falls in love with a girl on the screen. He goes to Keystone Studios to find her. He disrupts the shooting of a film, and a fire breaks out. Charlie is blamed, gets squirted with a firehose, and is shoved by the female star. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Charlie visits the Keystone lot in this scrappy little comedy
According to some of the central figures involved, including Charlie Chaplin and producer Mack Sennett, Chaplin's first weeks making movies at the Keystone Studio were not pleasant ones. No one knew what to make of this temperamental young Englishman, while Chaplin, for his part, was bewildered by film technique and didn't get along with his colleagues. Though it may seem hard to believe now, there were serious doubts all around that Chaplin could make good in the movies.
Viewed in this light Chaplin's fifth comedy, A Film Johnnie, a fairly amusing short in its own right, takes on some additional historical weight as something of an inside joke, an indirect comment on Chaplin's actual off-screen status at his studio. In the opening sequence a scruffy-looking Charlie goes into a cinema and sees a Keystone comedy featuring an actress he admires. When her co-star, an older man, gets fresh with her Charlie becomes so upset and agitated he is ejected from the theater. He heads straight to the Keystone Studio, seeking to get in. (Thus the title: he's like the "stage door johnnies" who would hang around theaters, hoping to meet the performers and/or get a job with the acting company.) He watches as prominent performers such as Roscoe Arbuckle and Ford Sterling, wearing their street garb, step out of cars and casually enter the studio, smiling and chatting. They're members of the In Crowd, but he is not. Approaching a bemused Arbuckle, he requests and receives a hand-out. He tries this again with Sterling, but -- in a reflection of their alleged off-camera friction? -- receives nothing; Sterling even takes the coin Arbuckle had given Charlie earlier. The studio director (Edgar Kennedy) refuses Charlie admission, but he easily slips past the elderly doorman. Once inside he finds the girl he so admires (Virginia Kirtley) but ruins the scene she's acting in because he believes it's actually happening. He runs amok with a prop pistol, scaring everyone, then leaves.
The comic mayhem that occurs in the studio and at a nearby house fire --which might have been a real event-- amounts to routine Keystone knockabout, apparently improvised while the cameras were rolling. Charlie contributes some cute gags: he lights a cigarette by shooting it with a pistol, and starts to kick a stage hand but when the man turns he quickly switches to scratching his ankle. What's really of interest here is the context and the subtext: essentially Chaplin was still on probation when this film was made, and his colleagues' wariness towards him appears to be genuine. A Film Johnnie captures a time when Charlie hadn't made the grade, just yet.
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