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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.
I love these early short comedies from Chaplin because, much more than
most other directors early in their career, these early short films are
such clear depictions of reality, there is always so much history to be
seen in them. In Film Johnny, Charlie plays himself, basically, a
newcomer to film, trying to get into the pictures and get noticed. But
of course, in true Chaplin form, the only thing he manages to do is
create havoc, botch an unnecessary rescue attempt and a make a mess of
My understanding is that "film Johnny" refers to the guys that would hang around film studios, hoping to get inside and get a job (it should be noted that Steven Spielberg used to do this). Chaplin starts out in this film as one of those guys, and then we see a clear escalation of the gags that they put together, culminating in a priceless scene where he gets his hands on a gun and gives in to the feeling of power and invincibility it gives him, and he goes around shooting up the place, famously lighting a cigarette by shooting it with the gun and then firing shots at random around the studio, eventually catching it on fire and inadvertently providing the perfect ending for the film that they had been trying to shoot while he was messing everything up.
It is also interesting, as I have noticed some other IMDb users have pointed out, that in this film you get a glimpse of the Keystone Studios lot only weeks after Chaplin began his film career. A must see for any fan.
Short (about 7 minutes) comedy featuring Charlie Chaplin as a movie fan
on the set of a movie. Charlie is unable to see the difference between
on screen acting and the real life, so when his favorite actress gets
'attacked' he tries to rescue her.
Then there's a great scene in which he lights his cigarette with his gun, but unfortunately he's starting a fire with it. The movie executives try to make the best of it by shooting another scene, until Charlie is standing in the way yet again...
Amusing little flick and a must-see for every Charlie fan, although not among his best or most important shorts from that era. 6/10.
Shot very early in Chaplin's film career, A Film Johnny (I have no idea what
the title means) is a short, but fascinating look at how movies were made in
the earliest days of Hollywood.
Unfortunately, the DVD version I saw was a 1930s reissue edit that, for some reason, omits the prologue in which Chaplin decides to visit a movie studio after falling for a girl on the screen. But what remains is a fast-paced, sometimes confusing montage of scenes in which the Little Tramp (fast developing into the character the world would come to love) basically causes havoc at the real-life Keystone Studios.
Reportedly, Mack Sennett and Fatty Arbuckle and even Mabel Normand appear in the film. I think I spotted Sennett, but I have no idea what role Arbuckle played, while Normand was nowhere to be seen (though she might be the girl seen laughing at Charlie at the end). But as I saw a shortened version, it's possible their scenes were simply cut out.
What does survive is a very funny (and innovative) gag in which Chaplin lights a cigarette by firing a gun loaded with blanks at it. That, plus a fleeting glimpse of the Keystone Studios mere weeks after Chaplin began his movie career, makes this worthwhile. Chaplin's later film, Behind the Screen, another movie lot comedy, is a much better film, however.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
George Nichols directed films from 1908 to 1916. He spent about six
months working for Keystone. During that period he got to direct
Chaplin in four movies about two months after Chaplin had arrived at
The movie has two distinct parts. In the opening, Chaplin goes to a movie to see the "Keystone Girl." The Keystone Girl was actually Mabel Normand, but interestingly she is played by newcomer Peggy Pearce here. Pearce had started just a couple a months before at Keystone and had starred in two films with Ford Sterling. She was in all four of Nichols films with Chaplin. Apparently, he considered them a good team. In his autobiography Chaplin said that Pearce was his first love in Hollywood.
Chaplin, in his autobiography notes that before signing with Keystone, he had seen some Keystone films and he felt that Mabel Normand was the best thing in them. The movie suggests that Chaplin had a crush on the Keystone Girl. It is possible that he really loved Mabel, however, since she was involved with Mack Sennett at the time, the movie coyly disguises this by casting Peggy Pearce, who looks a lot like Normand, in the lead role.
After reacting to all the events he sees on the screen in the movie theater as if they were real, Chaplin gets kicked out of the movie theater. He visits the Keystone studio and we see a nice bit with Roscoe Arbuckle and Ford Sterling. Chaplin's tramp costume pants were actually a pair of Arbuckle's pants. In begging Roscoe for money, Chaplin shows him how ill-fitting his pants are, as if he use to be Roscoe's size, but has starved himself down to his current size. Roscoe give Chaplin a coin. Immediately Chaplin begs Ford Sterling for money. Sterling steals the coin out of Chaplin's hand.
Sneaking into the studio, Chaplin manages to get in the way of the workers. There is a lovely little bit with Hank Mann and the two of them spinning around in nicely choreographed spin around move. In "City Lights" 18 years later, Chaplin will do the same move with Mann in a boxing ring, when he faces Mann as his opponent.
Edgar Kennedy, as the director on the movie set, also does a nice slow burn developing into uncontrolled anger at Chaplin. It is the slow burn we will love later in Laurel and Hardy movies and "Duck Soup" with the Marx Brothers.
Mabel Normand is listed as being in this film, but I did not see her. I believe somebody confused her with Peggy Pearce and that is why she is listed. Ford Sterling, besides his appearance as himself, also appears as the leader of some firemen at the end who orders Chaplin to be hosed down.
There are lots of nice bits and shots in this film. Chaplin lighting a cigarette with a gun and shots of him running down the street and racing Keystone cars to a fire were nice. The running down the street shots match similar shots in his first film - "Making a Living." The film is a good record of how the people at Keystone looked down on Chaplin when he first arrived. It also suggests that he might have had a crush on Mabel Normand. It is not outstanding but it is a solid piece of comedy for its time.
One of Charlie Chaplin's early movies casts him as a man who goes to a
movie studio to find his dream girl, only to make a complete mess of
the production. Watching "A Film Johnnie", I assumed that "Johnnie"
refers to someone who makes a mess of things. Maybe it was a slang word
at the time. Most importantly, the movie lets us see Chaplin strut his
physical humor. I suspect that everyone had a lot of fun making it. In
addition to Chaplin, there's Fatty Arbuckle and Mabel Normand. Not any
kind of great movie, but fun for the few minutes that it lasts.
I bet that Charlie Chaplin felt weird having gone from poor boy to international superstar. To be certain, his granddaughter Oona played Talisa Maegyr on "Game of Thrones".
Just watched on the Internet Archive site 8 minutes of what this site states was a 15 minute short made by Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios. It stars Charlie Chaplin in another of his early appearances in which he's at that studio, as a civilian in his Tramp costume, wreaking havoc. If I didn't read the synopsis here beforehand, I would have been partly confused as to what was going on but because of that, I laughed at the part where he came to the "rescue" of his lady crush when she was being "attacked" and when he used the gun to kill her "attacker". Also, was that the first time that gun was used to light a cigarette? Was marred a bit by blurry titles and, once again, missing beginning context. Still, I was quite fascinated by what I saw of A Film Johnnie. Update-6/14/11: I just watched the entire thing on YouTube with the original Keystone titles intact. It's now a bit funnier so I'm now upping the rating from 5 to 7.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Chaplin wants in at a local movie studio, which is actually Mack Sennett's Keystone studio. The irony is Chaplin is playing a film "johnnie", someone who wants in the movies no matter what. When Chaplin finally does matter to to get in, he causes chaos of course,interfering on the movie set and shooting the place up. There are lots of wild scenes in this one, including what looks to be an actual fire. Chaplin has a few neat gags like lighting his cigarette with a pistol and wringing his ears, only to see the water come out his mouth. Several silent stalwarts have supporting roles in this one, like Mabel Normand and Fatty Arbuckle. It was a sign, just as in the short itself, that Chaplin was indeed arriving as a star. ** of 4 stars.
Film Johnnie, A (1914)
** (out of 4)
Charles Chaplin plays a film buff who goes to Keystone Studios to meet his favorite stars, which he does but at the same time he doesn't find himself welcomed after a while. Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, Virginia Kirtley, Mabel Normand and Ford Sterling are among the stars seen at the studio and while this it's fun to see all these stars together I wouldn't go further by calling this a good movie. Chaplin is quite animated here as he finds himself getting into one mess after another, which eventually leads to his setting a set on fire. Some historians seem to think that this movie was a way for the studio to display their feelings towards Chaplin. It was well known that he was causing trouble with his attitude even this early in his career so historians believe the annoying character here is the studio showing him as he was. I'm not sure how true this is but it's an interesting theory.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I watched this the other day and by god it is hilarious. Charlie gains entrance to a film studio and some how finds a gun. He attempts to help a young lady who is in trouble although she is only acting. Anyway Charlie gets into a biff and throws a couple of his flying kicks launching a couple of people across the room. Then he starts to shoot up the place. As there is no sound, all you can see is white smoke filling the screen. I watched that scene twice and didn't stop laughing. Film Johnnie is a great film running at 15 minutes. Charlie Chaplan is a legend and this film is a must see in my opinion, very well made.
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