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Laughing Gas (1914)

Charlie pretends to be a dentist though he is only his assistant. When a patient can't stop laughing from the anesthesia Charlie knocks him out with a club. He is sent to the drug store, ... See full summary »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
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Fritz Schade ...
Alice Howell ...
Mrs. Pain - the Dentist's Wife
...
Pedestrian / Patient
...
Patient
...
Patient
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Storyline

Charlie pretends to be a dentist though he is only his assistant. When a patient can't stop laughing from the anesthesia Charlie knocks him out with a club. He is sent to the drug store, gets in a fight with a man who (after a brick in the face) becomes another patient, and pulls the skirt off the dentist's wife (who is out walking). At one point Charlie pulls a tooth (the wrong one) using enormous pliers. Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

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dentist | pain | laughing gas | See All (3) »

Genres:

Short | Comedy

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Release Date:

9 July 1914 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Busy Little Dentist  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

 
Early Chaplin, and quite a brawl
28 December 2006 | by See all my reviews

Viewers accustomed to the Charlie Chaplin of City Lights and Modern Times may be startled to see just how rowdy his early Keystone comedies could get. In some cases these movies amount to little more than 10 or so minutes of wild slapstick, and when the prints are in poor condition even rudimentary plot-lines become incoherent. A few of the Keystones display a degree of finesse and are well worth watching (I'd put The New Janitor and The Masquerader on the short list of Charlie's most enjoyable early films), while others are of interest only to Chaplin buffs determined to see all his work, even the scrappy and unpleasant stuff—which brings us to Laughing Gas. Charlie plays a dentist's assistant in this one, more of an office helper than an actual dentist, though he takes an active role in anesthetizing patients. This short presents Charlie at his most violent: hurling bricks, kicking butts, and fighting with practically everybody, especially Mack Swain. I enjoy good slapstick, but I found this short exasperating to watch. Admittedly, the print I saw was in bad shape and thus difficult to follow, especially towards the end, but I suspect that even if a pristine camera negative of Laughing Gas turned up in a vault somewhere it wouldn't make much difference, quality-wise. For audiences of 1914 it was an exciting novelty to see the knockabout action of vaudeville and burlesque transferred to the new medium, but nowadays it's difficult to find genuine humor in something like this, for me anyway.

Chaplin was still in his apprenticeship at this point and had only recently started directing his films. He obviously didn't care whether viewers liked his screen character or not, but just wanted to keep the tempo fast and frantic. (Or was he trying to please his boss, Mack Sennett?) It's clear that the action in this film, like most of the Keystones, was loosely improvised from scene to scene, without any larger sense of purpose. On that level, buffs may be interested to compare this early, "unedited" Chaplin with the later perfectionist who demanded multiple takes. Typical gag: Charlie, pretending to be the dentist while his boss is away, flirts with a pretty young patient, then takes a pair of pincers, pinches her nose, and yanks her face over for a kiss. Okay, it's a little on the rough side but a decent gag. But overkill sets in rapidly as Charlie repeats the business three or four more times to diminishing returns. (Maybe it got a big laugh on the set?) Early on, however, there's a nicely performed bit of physical comedy: Charlie follows his employer's wife up some stairs, stumbles, attempts to steady himself by grabbing her, and yanks her dress off. It's startling and cleanly performed without looking over-rehearsed, and is perhaps the funniest bit in the film. Otherwise, it's non-stop fighting. Silent comedy fans with a special interest in Chaplin's work will want to see Laughing Gas, but there's no strong reason to seek it out otherwise unless you crave slapstick in its most chaotic form.

Incidentally, the actress playing the dentist's wife (i.e. the one who loses her dress) is Alice Howell, who went on to star in a series of her own. Stan Laurel later cited her as one of the finest comediennes of the silent screen. I haven't seen enough of her films to form an opinion myself, but the nice contribution she makes to Laughing Gas whets my appetite to see more of her work.


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