Charlie and his partner are to deliver a piano to 666 Prospect St. and repossess one from 999 Prospect St. They confuse the addresses. The difficulties of delivering the piano by mule cart,... See full summary »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Charlie aka Tom - Piano Mover
Mack Swain ...
Mike aka Ambrose - Tom's Partner
Fritz Schade ...
Mr. Rich
Cecile Arnold ...
Mrs. Rich
...
Piano Store Manager
Frank Hayes ...
Mr. Poor
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Storyline

Charlie and his partner are to deliver a piano to 666 Prospect St. and repossess one from 999 Prospect St. They confuse the addresses. The difficulties of delivering the piano by mule cart, and most of the specific gags, appeared later in Laurel and Hardy's "The Music Box". Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

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Genres:

Short | Comedy

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Release Date:

7 November 1914 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Charlie as a Piano Mover  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Goofs

When Charlie Chaplin and Mack Swain remove the piano from the shop where they work, and pause outside to bicker, the shop window reflects a large crowd of bystanders who have stopped to watch the comedians perform for the cameras. See more »

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User Reviews

 
I hear a symphony
28 September 2015 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

This is one of the mellower comedies Charlie Chaplin made at Keystone, and therefore, to my way of thinking, one of his more enjoyable efforts for the studio. His Musical Career offers a coherent story which unfolds at a leisurely pace, several amusing gags, scant violence by Sennett standards, and a memorable finale to wrap up the package. But what's really of interest here is the influence this film exerted on Stan Laurel, Chaplin's friend and one-time stage colleague. As far as I know Mr. Laurel never specifically mentioned this short in any interviews, but even if he didn't actually see it I believe he must have heard about it, most likely from one of Chaplin's supporting players, Charley Chase. However it came about, several elements of this 1914 Keystone comedy found their way into Laurel & Hardy's famous Oscar-winning short The Music Box, produced in 1932. I should add that I don't consider this a matter of anyone stealing material; it was common for comedians to borrow gags and routines from one another and rework them, something Chaplin himself did many times. What's interesting, I believe, is to see how this material was used by Chaplin at the dawn of his career, and then adapted almost twenty years later by a pair of great comedians in their prime.

The story begins in a piano shop, run by a very dapper-looking young Charley Chase. In the back of the shop, workman Mack Swan is approached by our lead player, who is seeking a job. There's some horsing around when Charlie switches a bucket of varnish for a bucket of beer, and Swain drinks it, but Charlie gets the job anyway, and becomes Mack's assistant. Meanwhile, the manager sells a piano to a prosperous- looking gentleman appropriately named Mr. Rich, and promises to have it delivered. Just then, a theatrical, wild-haired man—apparently a musician—enters. He begins to examine the new instruments in the show room with great excitement. This irritates Chase, who tells him that if he can't make the payments on the piano he already owns, it will be repossessed. Soon afterward, Mack and Charlie receive their instructions: deliver a piano to 666 Prospect Street (i.e. to Mr. Rich), and bring one back from 999 Prospect Street (i.e. from the wild-haired, impecunious musician). They proceed to load a piano into their mule-drawn cart, and head across town. Can you guess how this turns out? Well yes, you probably can, and if you figured they'd mix up the addresses you'd be right, but no matter. The allure of Keystone comedies was never in surprise plot twists, it's in what happens along the way.

Incidentally, Keystone comedies aren't often celebrated for their cinematography, perhaps because surviving prints are usually so battered, but this one has several striking shots. I especially like the extended traveling shot of Charlie and Mack in their cart, rolling along in traffic, as Mack nods off and Charlie draws beer from their bucket with his pipe. Nothing especially funny happens, but we get a fascinating glimpse of the world of 1914, when vehicles drawn by horses or mules could still be seen in traffic alongside those newfangled automobiles.

Once they arrive—at the wrong address, of course—the parallels with The Music Box become obvious to latter-day viewers. Mack (who is large and rotund) and Charlie (who is neither) must haul their piano up a narrow flight of stairs. Déjà vu! The similarities are there, but so are some differences: Laurel & Hardy built most of their film around what happens on the staircase, whereas Chaplin uses the stairs only briefly. In the Keystone version the piano rolls backward twice, pushing Charlie down the stairs before it, and we're reminded of what would befall Babe Hardy. At another point, Charlie happily steals a ride on the piano while Mack pushes it, as Stan would do. Even so, these are only brief bits of business in His Musical Career. You might say that Chaplin came up with a simple melody, but it took Laurel & Hardy to develop it into a symphony.

The finale takes place when Charlie and Mack arrive at Mr. Rich's house and seize his piano, despite the vigorous objections of Mrs. Rich and a servant. Once they have hauled it outside, they are confronted by Mr. Rich, who, of course, is indignant. This is something like the moment in The Music Box when Billy Gilbert comes home to find that Stan & Ollie have trashed the place, but the outcome is quite different: after a brief scuffle in front of the house, Mr. Rich boots Mack in the butt. Consequently, Mack and Charlie sail down the steeply raked sidewalk, clinging to the piano. They roll into a park, and plunge into an inconveniently located pond. Mr. Rich watches in horror as his beloved instrument sinks into the depths, bearing the two workmen. Incongruously, Charlie plays a tune as the water level rises—and—fadeout!

For many years I've owned an 8mm print of His Musical Career, courtesy of the folks at Blackhawk Films, but unfortunately their version lacked the climax, and ended abruptly just as Mr. Rich arrived home. It was a long time before I finally saw the finale, but it's a humdinger, well worth the wait. As for that Chaplin-to-Laurel connection, well, it would appear that someone at the Hal Roach Studio in 1932 remembered this Keystone short, and suggested it would make a great premise for Laurel & Hardy. If it wasn't Mr. Laurel himself, it may very well have been his friend and colleague Charley Chase, who, of course, played the dapper young manager of the piano shop. However it happened, it's intriguing to contemplate how a relatively minor entry in the Chaplin canon somehow morphed into a major entry in the career of Laurel & Hardy.


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