Charlie does everything but an efficient job as janitor. Edna buys her fiance, the cashier, a birthday present. Charlie thinks "To Charles with Love" is for him. He presents her a rose ... See full summary »
Charlie does everything but an efficient job as janitor. Edna buys her fiance, the cashier, a birthday present. Charlie thinks "To Charles with Love" is for him. He presents her a rose which she throws in the garbage. Depressed, Charlie dreams of a bank robbery and his heroic role in saving he manager and Edna ... but it is only a dream. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
The genius of Charlie Chaplin lay in the fact that he didn't just do comedy. As he honed his craft, his stories became an intricate balance between pure comedy, action and poignancy. And yet he wove his comic style into the latter two, so they flowed seamlessly into the grand plan.
The Bank begins, sensibly, with the out-and-out comedy. Like many of the shorts he made at Essanay, this involves Charlie's little tramp character causing mayhem in a once-orderly environment. His role here as a janitor in a bank is ideal for this pattern. While most of the time our eyes will be on the tramp and his antics, Chaplin actually often draws our attention to the trail of destruction he leaves behind him, resulting in maximum laughs. For example, in one shot the tramp messes up the workstation of a couple of suited employees, and while he saunters casually into the background, we are left with the two clerks fuming in the foreground. In the shot where Charlie inadvertently puts his mop in a clerk's hat, he draws our eyes towards the point where the gag is about to take place by having that clerk move around more and putting a white space around him. The arrangement looks random but this is a genuine technique that works upon audiences.
Gradually, a plot begins to crystallize out of all this silliness. This is where the emotional angle comes in. Unusually for him, Chaplin uses a lot of close-ups, putting the slapstick on hold for a bit, and highlighting the expressions of his characters. He demonstrates his considerable acting talent, showing how his complete control over his body could be turned to giving a deep and moving performance. He lets the moment run long enough for the audience to appreciate, but prevents it from overbalancing the whole picture by punctuating it with a couple of gags as Charlie takes out his suffering on his rival janitor.
The action finale of the Bank is probably the most elaborate and precise of its kind that Chaplin had constructed so far. It works both as part of the comedy and as an exciting moment in its own right. It has the frenetic pace of a good action sequence, but it is also effectively a series of gags, as characters are knocked down into roly-poly pratfalls, or Charlie's fight with a robber spins into a dance. The whole thing is impeccably staged and timed.
This might be a good time to mention a few of the supporting players from the Bank. Billy Armstrong plays the second janitor, with whom Charlie evidently has an inexplicable (yet very funny) feud. There was usually a character like this in Chaplin's Essanay pictures, and on several memorable occasions it was Armstrong. With his gangly form and spectacular pratfalling, he was ideal. This was also the first time Chaplin worked with John Rand, here playing the top-hatted chief bank robber. He had a kind of preposterous look to him, but was versatile enough to fulfil a variety of roles in Chaplin's pictures over the next twenty years.
The Bank is Chaplin's first truly perfect feature, and due to its excellence should be seen by absolutely everyone.
Last but not least, the all-important statistic Number of kicks up the arse: 4 (2 for, 1 against, 1 other)
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