Charlie is released from prison and immediately swindled by a fake parson. A fellow ex-convict convinces Charlie to help burglarize a house, but Edna, the house's owner, catches them and ... See full summary »
Charlie is released from prison and immediately swindled by a fake parson. A fellow ex-convict convinces Charlie to help burglarize a house, but Edna, the house's owner, catches them and calls the police. Charlie, however, manages to charm his way out of trouble .... at least for the moment. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
This short comedy marked a real leap forward for Charlie Chaplin: it tells a good story in a clear and economical manner, Charlie himself is a sympathetic and dignified figure albeit down-and-out, and there are elements of social commentary and satire that don't overwhelm everything else. Oh, and POLICE also happens to be quite funny, even laugh out loud funny at times. Nothing feels forced: the gags all spring naturally from the situation and from Charlie's character, and we never get the sense that he's straining to make us laugh, nor is there any gratuitous knockabout. Barely two years after facing a camera for the first time, Chaplin the director demonstrates real maturity as a filmmaker while Chaplin the performer is at or near his early peak.
The setting is certainly gritty. In the opening scene Charlie is being released from prison after serving time for some unspecified crime, and almost immediately he's set upon by an oily fake preacher who urges him to "go straight" while quietly picking his pocket. (After learning this hard lesson Charlie is suspicious of all others who use the phrase, and no wonder.) When he arrives at a flophouse to lodge for the night Charlie sees an obviously ill man who is allowed in free out of charity; so he coughs, sucks in his cheeks and tries to pass himself off as consumptive, but the proprietor isn't fooled. Funny? Well, yes, it's an amusing gag, but only in the bleakest sense. Charlie is a genuine tramp here, not just an eccentric in a derby, and your enjoyment of the film may depend on your tolerance for this variety of grim, whistling-past-the-flophouse humor. Chaplin himself experienced dire poverty as a child, so the milieu here isn't the product of idle speculation on his part: he knew what hard-scrabble life was like. At any rate, repeated scrapes with cops suggest that our hero may not be out of jail for long, and when he bumps into a former cell-mate who recruits him to participate in a burglary we get the sinking feeling that Charlie is doomed.
From the moment the burglary is underway we appreciate that Charlie has been a criminal out of necessity, not from any natural aptitude for crime; that is to say, he is the most inept burglar imaginable, unable to pry open windows, sure to knock furniture over with his cane, and inclined to take the least valuable items in the household. The young lady on the premises (Charlie's perennial leading lady Edna Purviance) confronts the thieves, but Charlie proves what he's really made of when his partner attempts to get rough with her and he immediately acts as her protector. While the ending isn't exactly a happy one we are left with some hope for his redemption.
This was Chaplin's last official release produced for the Essanay Studio, although his former employers later cobbled together TRIPLE TROUBLE out of scraps and outtakes from various unfinished works over his protests. Meanwhile however, after he completed this film Chaplin went to the Lone Star Studio to make some of his greatest short films for release by the Mutual Company. But POLICE can hold its own alongside the Mutual series and ranks with Chaplin's best work from this early period. Unlike most of his Keystone comedies and some of the earlier, slapstick-y and disjointed Essanays, this film requires no special patience or tolerance to watch: it's a pleasure from beginning to end, and a pretty good introduction to its star for a newcomer who might wonder what Charlie Chaplin was all about.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?