Charlie and his boss have difficulties just getting to the house they are going to wallpaper. The householder is angry because he can't get breakfast and his wife is screaming at the maid ... See full summary »
Charlie and his boss have difficulties just getting to the house they are going to wallpaper. The householder is angry because he can't get breakfast and his wife is screaming at the maid as they arrive. The kitchen gas stove explodes, and Charlie offers to fix it. The wife's secret lover arrives and is passed off as the workers' supervisor, but the husband doesn't buy this and fires shots. The stove explodes violently, destroying the house. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
This film was one of several Chaplin comedies scheduled to be shown at the New-York Historical Society in September of 2001. In the wake of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, however, this film and one other, Dough and Dynamite, were pulled from the program, because each one ends with Charlie emerging from the rubble of a destroyed building. See more »
Happily, Charlie has learned to play David instead of Goliath
The short films Charlie Chaplin made for the Essanay Company during 1915 mark a transitional stage in his development as a great comedian: they're generally better than the chaotic slapstick comedies he cranked out for Keystone during his apprenticeship in 1914, but not as good as the first-rate films he would produce for the Mutual Company within a couple of years. Judged on their own merits the Essanay films are a mixed lot, although a few of them (such as THE BANK and POLICE) are quite impressive. This particular ode to knockabout comedy, simply titled WORK, ranks somewhere in the middle range of Chaplin's Essanay output: no great shakes in itself, but generally enjoyable with some good gags and fun sequences, especially in the first half.
A key element that distinguishes these Essanay films from the earlier ones is that this is where Chaplin started taking pains to influence viewer sympathy. In the Keystone comedies Charlie was often belligerent, drunk, rude to women and generally nasty. In one primitive Keystone release called THE PROPERTY MAN Charlie works backstage at a theater, and is downright cruel to his elderly assistant. In WORK, however, the tables have (properly) turned, and it's Charlie who is the lowly assistant, working as a household contractor and slaving away under a sadistic supervisor. In the opening sequence we see him pulling his boss and all their equipment through the streets in a rickshaw-like cart, hauling the obviously heavy load for miles, uphill and across train tracks, all the way to the mansion they've been hired to fix up, so from the very outset we're rooting for Charlie and hope to see him avenge himself on his heartless boss.
Chaplin the maturing filmmaker is also careful to establish that the rich couple who've hired the workmen are not such pleasant people themselves, so, naturally, when their house gets trashed we aren't especially sympathetic. When we first see the husband he's demanding breakfast from the maid, shouting and fuming. His haughty wife is no better: as soon as the workmen arrive she issues a series of fussy demands, then insults them by ostentatiously locking away her valuables. Charlie retaliates by tucking his own "valuables" into an inside pocket (one of my favorite gags in the film). Back in Keystone days Charlie would do anything for a laugh and didn't care whether we liked him or not, but here we see the stirrings of a more sophisticated sensibility, with just a touch of social commentary. The maid, surprisingly, is played by Chaplin's longtime leading lady Edna Purviance, who was more often cast as patrician types. But Edna is a working girl this time around, almost as downtrodden and pushed around as Charlie, and as soon as Charlie arrives they strike sparks and bond instantly. Their sweet, playful scenes together are a highlight of the movie.
WORK speeds up and turns pretty silly in its latter portions, when a highly unlikely (but amusing) farcical twist involving the haughty wife's secret lover is abruptly introduced into the mix. Before long everyone is getting spattered with paste and running around at high speed as the kitchen stove blows up repeatedly. Things get strenuously wacky by the end, but in a good-natured sort of way, as if Charlie and the gang were giving us a big wink and saying "Isn't this ridiculous?" It certainly is, and quite entertaining, too.
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