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The Fireman (1916)

TV-G | | Short, Comedy | 12 June 1916 (USA)
Charlie is a fireman who always does everything wrong. A man talks the Fire Chief into ignoring his burning home (he wants the insurance money) unaware that his daughter (the love of the ... See full summary »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
...
Girl
...
Eric Campbell ...
Fire Chief
Leo White ...
Owner of the Burning House
Albert Austin ...
John Rand ...
James T. Kelley ...
Frank J. Coleman ...
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Storyline

Charlie is a fireman who always does everything wrong. A man talks the Fire Chief into ignoring his burning home (he wants the insurance money) unaware that his daughter (the love of the Chief) is upstairs in the house. When the house next door catches fire its owner rouses Charlie who rouses the force. Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

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Short | Comedy

Certificate:

TV-G | See all certifications »
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Release Date:

12 June 1916 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Gallant Fireman  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Trivia

The film shows some early day street scenes in the surrounding Los Angeles area. See more »

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User Reviews

 
Maybe Chaplin's best early comedy?
23 April 2008 | by (Luoyang, China) – See all my reviews

The Fireman soon strikes me as a perfect example of just how good Chaplin's earliest films could be. So many of the Keystone and Essanay comedies are rough and simple comedies with a lot of comical punching and kicking and not much else. This one has a developed story, multiple sets, location shooting, a nice love story, even a full-sized structure fire. It's also one of the earliest and best examples of Chaplin using reverse motion in his films. Here, it is used several times, and with surprisingly convincing effect, to show people going up and down the fireman's pole and to drive the horse-drawn fire engine forwards and backwards.

Charlie is in good form as he is working diligently on the fire truck, and then quickly stands at attention and salutes when the fire chief boots him on the rear while he works. He salutes each time only to be rewarded with a good thrashing, once again showing a hard working guy getting abused and mistreated by his superiors. Finally, he decides he's had enough and fights back, only to be demoted to the cook's assistant, a job at which he is satisfactorily unqualified. Lots of comic mayhem ensues.

But the movie really gets good after Charlie attempts to serve dinner and soon finds the fire chief, covered in soup from head to toe, chasing him all over the station. A couple of distinguished guests arrive, and the well-dressed man tells the chief that if he allows his house to burn down so he can get the insurance money, he'll offer up his daughter's hand in marriage. What a loving father. The chief agrees, and it's an ominous sign when the daughter shows a clear interest in Charlie rather than the chief.

The chief orders the men to ignore the fire alarm, showing what a responsible leader he is, so they all ignore a genuine fire call until it's almost too late. Soon they realize their error and head with all possible speed to the site of the emergency, which sure looks to me like they really set a house on fire for the movie. I'm also curious to know where exactly the exterior shots were filmed, because I come from Los Angeles and it's always fascinating to me to know where exactly shots like that were taken so I can see what it looked like more than 90 year ago.

There is a healthy amount of poetic justice in the film, which is one of it's strongest points. Every action has a reaction, and all corrupt decisions are punished by fate. The corrupt man sets his house on fire, only to accidentally do so with his daughter upstairs, and not only has he asked the firemen not to respond, they are already busy with the "honest fire" anyway. He runs on foot to find them, and when he tells Charlie, the real love interest, about the fire, Charlie steals the fire truck and heads over there, leaving the rest of the team with no way to fight the real fire.

The truck breaks in half on the way to the other fire, so Charlie is forced into the role of a hero. It's clear as he's climbing back down the wall on the outside of the house with the woman on his back that she's a dummy, but it's a clever effect and it works well enough.

When I see things like that, and especially things like the reverse motion used in parts of the film, I always wonder how they were received when shown to the movie's original audiences. Film was still an embryonic art form, and the general public had extremely little knowledge or understanding of it. I am willing to bet that a good part of the audience was totally stunned by seeing the horses walk backwards, and not because they're stupid, just because they had never seen something like that before, and it would have been much more difficult for a layman in 1916 to imagine running a film clip in reverse than it is for us today, when it is one of the simplest special effects that we can do.

Lately I've been watching a lot of Chaplin's old comedies, and I always try to view them in reference to the time in which they are made, but even so, some of them are genuinely crude and look like they were slapped together in a few hours (which many of them were). But The Fireman is definitely one of the strongest of all of the early comedies that I've seen.


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