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We're so accustomed to seeing Charlie Chaplin play a homeless tramp
it's a little strange to see him in the role of respectable family man.
In this Keystone comedy Charlie is a husband, homeowner and father.
He's married to Mabel Normand, and they live with their baby son in a
conventional middle-class home. Admittedly, it's not exactly a Father
Knows Best-style household: within the first minute or so Charlie
disrupts Mabel's work in the kitchen, they squabble, and an open flame
on the stove nearly burns each of them in turn. Charlie carries his son
by grabbing a fistful of his clothing, he gives the baby a pistol to
play with, and at one point Mabel actually flings a horseshoe directly
at her husband's head. Even so this looks like a fairly happy family by
Soon, of course, complications arise. We meet another, somewhat older couple staying in a nearby hotel. They're played by Mack Swain and Phyllis Allen, two startling-looking performers who had no qualms about using their appearance to get laughs. (When I saw this film at a recent public screening the audience enjoyed the strenuous mugging of Swain and Allen as much as the antics of Charlie and Mabel.) As Mack exits through the lobby of their hotel he encounters a nice young lady who asks him to mail a letter for her. He agrees, unaware that it's a note to her lover setting up a meeting. Charlie, meanwhile, goes out to get his baby son a new bottle, buys one, and tucks it into his coat pocket. In the film's most memorable sequence Mack and Charlie meet up at a shabby little café where Mack's sloppy eating habits deeply annoy Charlie. Meals always seemed to inspire Chaplin's most memorable scenes, from these early comedies to the routine with the missing coin in The Immigrant, and all the way to the haywire feeding device in Modern Times. Here, the set-up is much simpler and the bit is comparatively brief, but Chaplin and Swain make an amusing visual contrast and somehow the sequence is funny from the moment Charlie sits down. Immediately, the two guys launch a competition for Most Vulgar Eating Habits award. Mack slurps his soup so grossly we can almost hear him, while Charlie gnaws a huge bone like a wolverine. Within moments they're fighting, and before you know it Charlie is wiping the floor with Mack and attacking everyone else in the place for good measure. It's a strangely exhilarating spectacle. Speaking of eating scenes, ten years later Mack would share a cabin with Charlie in the Yukon in The Gold Rush, where Charlie would dine on a boiled shoe and a delusional Mack would hallucinate that his roommate was a chicken!
Getting back to Keystone Land: when the combatants leave the café after duking it out they manage to mix up their overcoats. (The two men are sized so differently this seems unlikely, but why quibble?) Thus, Mack goes off with a baby bottle in his pocket while Charlie carries the letter setting up a rendezvous. Soon after Charlie returns home Mabel finds the letter in his coat, assumes the worst, and expresses her displeasure by breaking an ironing board over his head. Meanwhile, Mack and his wife meet up in the park. He's still boiling mad about the incident in the café and she is sympathetic until she finds the baby bottle in his pocket. Phyllis instantly assumes her husband is the father of a secret child, doubtless the result of an illicit relationship. Charlie, fleeing his wife's wrath, rushes to the park with Mabel in pursuit. The two couples encounter each other, a cop gets involved, and more mayhem results.
For me, the sequences that conclude the film are anti-climactic. His Trysting Place peaks when Mabel cracks that ironing board over her husband's noggin, and everything that follows is standard Keystone park shenanigans, overly familiar from so many other comedies of the period. Chaplin's unaccustomed role as Dad is the major novelty here, but he doesn't carry the whole comic burden on his shoulders. This is an ensemble piece, and it's nice to see Mabel, Mack and Phyllis each given a moment or two to shine.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Most of the 35 movies Chaplin made at the beginning of his career in
1914 were pretty dreadful with a few glimpses of comedy. That's because
Chaplin's lovable persona hadn't fully been developed as well as the
slapped together way they made the films. Instead of planning the
films, they had just the broadest of outlines or story ideas and just
improvised it--sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. Most of the
time, the comedy stalled and actors often stood around trying to be
funny by bonking or kicking each other. Some die-hard Chaplin fans
adore and revere these films, while Chaplin himself didn't like this
style and left Keystone in order to make rehearsed and well-plotted
Despite the overall dreadfulness of these Keystone films, by mid-1915 he was probably the biggest star in the world and the films finally began to improve dramatically. Of all the 1914 films, HIS TRYSTING PLACE stands out as the best because it actually appears to have a complete script and plenty of laughs. While towards the beginning there is an over-reliance on slapstick as opposed to plot (in the restaurant scene), the rest of the film sticks to the plot quite well and really delivers a punch.
Charlie is married and has a young son. Mack Swain is a newlywed and seems very happily married. At the same time, another woman has written a letter to her boyfriend asking that they meet in the park to neck (kiss). As Mack is leaving his apartment, this lady asks him to mail this letter. But instead of immediately mailing the letter, he stops at a restaurant where he meets up with Charlie and they begin to fight for no particular reason. In the confusion, they accidentally take each other's coat. Chaplin has no idea there's a love letter inside and Swain has no idea there's a baby bottle in the pocket of the other coat. When they return home, Chaplin's adoring wife (Mabel Normand) finds the letter and thinks Charlie is cheating on her. While I am not always a huge fan of extreme slapstick, watching her slap him silly is pretty funny. She then chases him into the park where Mack and his wife are sitting on a bench. Mack hears Charlie's screams and goes to help--during which time his wife finds the baby bottle in his coat. Soon, all four of them are slapping each other around until they realize that the coats were switched. Everything seems perfect...until Mack's wife finds the letter and thinks it's for him! About the only negatives about this cute and funny short are the quality of the existing print (it's very dark and needs restoration) as well as the prop baby. Again and again, Mabel and Charlie toss the baby around or hold it by the throat while they are arguing! It's obvious that they forgot the wrapped up bundle was supposed to be a baby and they should have probably re-shot a couple scenes (though Keystone hardly ever re-shot anything). Still, despite these two minor problems, it's a great comedy and one of the best of the 1910s.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It seems like Chaplin needed more screen time to be more successful in each film. His best films for Keystone were the ones that were a minimum of two reels. His Trysting Place was one of these. The plotting is quite a bit more sophisticated than most other Keystone films, which isn't saying much. It's still a simple plot in retrospect, but for the time, it was one of his few films that wasn't overwhelmed by slapstick. They are many slapstick moments in this film, but they are well-balanced with having the plot to follow. Chaplin plays a family man in this one who goes to get a bottle for his toddler. Mack Swain is a husband who is trusted with mailing a love letter by a young lady. Chaplin and Mack Swain meet in a diner and compete to see who has the worst dining manners. They eventually fight and take each other's overcoat when it's over. This of course leads to trouble with their respective spouses. Mabel Normand keeps slapping Charlie silly and breaks an ironing board over his head, although it's hopelessly phony. They meet up with Mack Swain and his wife in a park and the mix-up is resolved, although for Mack Swain it worsens to the point of being spanked on a park bench. Another highlight is Chaplin carrying his toddler like a suitcase. Chaplin edited, wrote, and directed this one. **1/2 of 4 stars.
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