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Viewers interested in Charlie Chaplin's early work (i.e. the rough
stuff, with lots of drunken foolery and butt-kicking) may well enjoy
this film. I confess I enjoyed it, the way I might get a kick out of
watching Championship Wrestling for twenty minutes or so. If it's
Chaplin the Artiste you want then try the later productions, but if
you're in the mood for rude and unrefined slapstick then A Night Out
should fit the bill nicely.
This is the second film Chaplin made for the Essanay company, and it also marks the second and last time he teamed up with knockabout comic Ben Turpin. Chaplin and Turpin don't pair especially well on screen, and it's said they didn't get along off-camera either, which is no surprise. Chaplin was a gifted mime, an inspired comedian and an exacting filmmaker, while Turpin was a low-comedy clown with crossed eyes. Ben could take a fall with the best of them, but it's said he didn't understand why Chaplin the perfectionist demanded take after take of each scene. There in a nutshell you have the difference between an artist and a hack.
As it happens, despite the modest trappings of this film Chaplin's special gift comes across in several nice little moments. Early on, during the sequence in a swanky restaurant, the drunken Charlie stands at an indoor fountain and suddenly seems to believe he's washing up in the privacy of his own home, so naturally enough he brushes his teeth with the stem of a plant. It's a strange bit of business, almost dreamlike, but Chaplin makes it appear perfectly normal and routine. Later, checking into a hotel, Charlie attempts to rest his foot on the bar rail -- which happens to be invisible -- and drink ink from the inkwell.
This film is most notable as the debut of Chaplin's longtime leading lady Edna Purviance, who was only 19 years old at this time and very pretty indeed. Her first scenes are fairly low-key, but later on, when she's in pajamas playing with her dog, Chaplin grants Edna a couple of close-ups which look something like a screen test. Obviously she passed the test with flying colors, for Edna went on to play opposite Chaplin in virtually every film he made for the next eight years, the happiest and most prolific period of his creative life. If for no other reason, A Night Out is worth seeing for the debut of this beautiful and underrated silent screen actress.
This was Charlie Chaplin's second picture at Essanay studios, and his
second to co-star Essanay's resident funny man Ben Turpin, who had been
with the studio since its first picture in 1907. With the exception of
his earliest Keystone appearances, many of which were ensemble pieces,
A Night Out is perhaps the closest Charlie came to being part of a
Turpin was neither as versatile or inventive as Chaplin, but he had bags of experience and his movements were spot on. In particular, and importantly for this picture, he could do a great drunken lurch and could pratfall superbly. Here he has almost as much screen time as the tramp himself, and even gets a few bits of comedy business to himself. Chaplin's male co-stars tended to be the butt of much of the physical comedy, and because he falls so well, every time he gets knocked down he draws attention to himself and away from Charlie. Turpin is hilarious here and he really lends something to this picture, but to progress Chaplin couldn't let anyone share his limelight, and it's no surprise that the pair would make just one more picture together.
Like most of the early Essanay shorts, A Night Out doesn't really have much in the way of plot, being simply the tramp (or, in this case, tramps) wandering around causing mayhem in an established environment. Although the result is not entirely satisfying, Chaplin does take time to develop his tramp character with drawn out comedy routines and interaction with the props and people of the setting. He is continually reducing the number of edits and keeping each series of gags to a single shot. For example, in the Keystone pictures and his first Essanay picture (His New Job), when characters get pushed over, more often than not there is a cut showing them flying into the next frame. However, in those early scenes in the restaurant in A Night Out, whenever people fall down it's towards the back of the room, so as not to break the flow at this more relaxed stage of the picture. Chaplin does however put in a few of these two-shot pratfalls towards the end to liven up the frantic finale.
A Night Out marks the debut of Edna Purviance, who would be Chaplin's only leading lady for the next eight years. Chaplin didn't demand his female leads become part of the comedy, he only required them to act well, and Purviance was a superlative actress. She is a relatively minor figure in this one however, although Chaplin does treat her to one of his rare close-ups. A Night Out is also the first time we get to see Leo White's "French character". White was another hilarious supporting player in the Chaplin troupe, who at times would also threaten to upstage Charlie, although his comic persona a stuck-up, straight-laced twerp was so different to Chaplin's that he made a perfect counterfoil and antagonist for the tramp. Ben Turpin however was too similar to Chaplin's tramp character, so his days as Charlie's sidekick were numbered. A Night Out is the best opportunity to see him in action.
And now, the all-important statistic
Number of kicks up the arse: 4 (3 for, 1 against)
Charlie Chaplin's 'A Night Out' is half an hour of the same sort of gag
over and over again. Chaplin is drunk and together with another guy
(Ben Turpin) he apparently is on a night out. They get kicked out of a
bar, have some trouble with a waiter (Bud Jamison) there, his wife
shows up as well to give us a little more fun, and out on the street a
police officer is doing his rounds.
Basically we see Chaplin smack someone in the face, the waiter or the other guy, or even the waiter's wife, and then he gets smacked in the face. The physical action that follows is quite nice but after five minutes we get the joke, after watching 25 minutes more we are kind of tired of it.
The reason to see this short, besides Chaplin's skill, is because Edna Purviance plays the wife of the waiter. This is her first film with Chaplin and that makes it a little more interesting. I squeeze it with a six (out of ten).
Though there are some good moments, mostly later in the feature, overall
this short comedy has too much of the same basic material, and it starts to
get old rather soon. Charlie Chaplin and Ben Turpin play a couple of drunks
who cause a series of difficulties for each other and for those with whom
they come in contact. They both do a creditable job (in itself) of
performing the material, but it is just too much of the same thing.
Drunkenness just is not funny enough to carry even a short feature all by
itself, and the use of it as a pretext for the characters to behave in a
chronically impolite fashion wears thin relatively quickly.
Things do get a little better in the second half, when the material and the plot become somewhat less one-dimensional. Then too, anything with Chaplin in it will have some good moments - but overall, "A Night Out" is below Chaplin's usual standard. It's probably most memorable for the first of Edna Purviance's many appearances in a Chaplin movie.
One of Chaplin's better efforts from his early days at Essanay which isn't really that much of a recommendation, as both Chaplin and his creation were far from the finished article when this was made. With his exaggerated motions and heavy-eyed contemplation of things he can't quite understand due to his inebriated state, Chaplin exquisitely captures the behaviour of one who has had more than one too many. He's partnered for the first time with Edna Purviance here, and they work well together. The story itself is typical of the violence with which Chaplin's work seemed to be obsessed at this time. He had obviously found a formula that worked
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"A Night Out" is a black-and-white silent short film from over 100 years ago written by, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin. The most interesting aspect probably has nothing to do with the story or with Chaplin's longtime co-star Edna Purviance being in a Chaplin film for the first time, it must be the attempt to introduce a co-lead to Chaplin. And while Ben Turpin was very talented and prolific actor, it just wasn't working out. Their attempt was not the physical difference in a Stan&Ollie scenario, but the difference in age between Chaplin and Turpin. This is not the only problem with this 35 minute film. I think the comedic material wasn't even there or convincing, not even for such a running time. Then again, this was much longer than Chaplin's other short films from around that era. I have seen a lot of his early works and this one here is not among his best. Thumbs down.
Honestly, I don't get it. A lot of violent slapstick humor. Chaplin's
character is a mean drunk. What's funny about that? I don't think we
can even ascribe it to the times. Oh, surely, some of it, our simple,
uneducated ancestors. Yeah. But if we saw this kind of film come out
of, say, China today, we'd be worried that a sadistic bunch of lunatics
was on the rise. Were the good ol' days more cruel? I don't get it. I
have a theory that there just simply wasn't much film entertainment
being done, so a guy like this can move into the Classic status more
easily. Whoever gets to the gold rush first gets the biggest haul. In
this case, fame.
Sure, some of the physical comedy is actually very deft, but I don't see how people hurting each other is very funny. I suppose there is still some of that today, low brow stuff, in some rude sitcoms. But isn't Chaplin a darling of the high brows? The Three Stooges look like they're having tea with the Queen compared to this piece.
Charlie Chaplin's second film for Essanay saw him move production to
their Californian studios for the first time. Chaplin and Ben Turpin
are on a night out and end up getting very drunk. They go to a nice
restaurant where they cause trouble for a smartly dressed gentleman.
The head waiter arrives and throws the pair out but not before Chaplin
has caught sight of the waiter's girlfriend Edna Purviance. Back at
their hotel Chaplin and Turpin bump into Purviance once more and again
cause trouble for themselves and get thrown out of their hotel. Onto
another hotel and Chaplin alone this time meets Purviance again, but
will the waiter get in the way of his affections?
This film is a bit of a mess, though it isn't easy to say to what extent this is Chaplin's fault and how much time is to blame. The version I saw seems to have been made up of three or four different copies and as a result it changes from black and white to sepia and back quite often. The editing is also pretty poor, often cutting away in the middle of a gag. The story also makes little sense and Turpin just disappeared altogether half way through the film. Most of the gags are simple door in face or fist in face sort of things which is a shame.
It isn't all bad though. There are a couple of genius gags in there. While drunk, Chaplin is getting ready for bed and puts his famous cane to bed first, fluffing its pillows and tucking it in. Earlier, he tries feeling up an attractive woman only to discover that it is in fact a man in drag. This is quite a bold joke for the times. Chaplin and Turpin also work very well as a double act and are even better here than in His New Job. I've said it before but I wish they'd worked together more. The film also features the sort of over the top fake facial hair and deep, dark eye makeup that I love to see in films of this period. It's the type of thing that Adele Black Sec got down to a tee.
This film is perhaps most famous for being the first Chaplin picture to feature Edna Purviance. Chaplin discovered her in a restaurant in San Francisco shortly before making the film and this is her screen debut. The two went on to make over thirty films together including Chaplin's 1921 masterpiece The Kid and were also romantically involved. Chaplin felt such a strong bond with Purviance that despite ending their relationship in 1917 and making their last film together in 1921, Chaplin kept Purviance on the payroll until her death in 1958.
Overall this film is a bit poor by Chaplin's high standards. It is plagued by a mixture of lazy jokes, bad script and the bad luck to have been partially lost for so long. Despite this there are still a few good jokes and it introduced Chaplin to Purviance so it isn't a total disaster.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Chaplin's second film for Essanay he edited, wrote, directed, and starred in with Ben Turpin. This was their second and last collaboration. Turpin's over-reliance on facial expressions made him an obvious second banana to Chaplin, and he probably saw that quickly. As a result he moved on on his own. A Night Out with Chaplin is more of the same from him; he had performed his drunk character multiple times previously in several Keystone films a year earlier to varying effect. A Night Out is merely an extended version of that same character. Only here, Chaplin is not so much of an instigator as he was in prior drunk characterizations. There's mostly slapstick and little else of a plot in this one, as Chaplin attempts to make his way around a hotel and bar area. There are a few sight gags the best of which is the veiled lady revealing herself and Chaplin being tossed out of a hotel window and falling a few stories; the editing is a little tricky there. This was also the first teaming of Chaplin and Edna Purviance, who would star with him in several more films. ** of 4 stars.
It's difficult to examine the acting done in Chaplin's early comedies,
because the term "acting" has to be used to so loosely. Chaplin is at
his least impressive for much of the film, stumbling around drunk and
causing havoc in a fancy restaurant. Definitely vintage slapstick, but
this style has, ahem, gotten a little old.
Anyway, Charlie and a friend have apparently had a big night and are struggling to maintain in a nice restaurant surrounded by well-dressed guests, but soon prove to be nothing but trouble. Before long there is a huge, oafish waiter, who looks more like a bouncer, who has to come in and restore order. It quickly becomes clear that this is a very inexperienced actor. There is one scene where he's smacking Chaplin, and his punches are obviously fake, even in fast motion.
I am not the biggest fan of the violence in Chaplin's films, at least when it's overdone, even though it is generally so over the top that, while it does usually look pretty convincing, it can still get a few laughs. But like it or not, the kicks and punches are usually pretty convincing. Not this guy!
Anyway, the film gives us this example of messy acting, more of a drunken Chaplin, a jealous husband, some seedy motel rooms, and a bit with a dog. What more do we really need?
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