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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of my favorite Chaplin shorts, but that's not the same as
saying it's one of his funniest. Gags notwithstanding, THE VAGABOND is
certainly the most serious film Chaplin had produced up to this time.
You might say this short was something of a dress rehearsal for THE
KID, a vehicle Chaplin the filmmaker devised in order to relate a
melodramatic story in a straightforward fashion, and permit his Tramp
to explore the role of hero. Having already proved decisively that he
could provoke laughter, it appears Chaplin wanted to see if he could
inspire enough sympathy to draw viewers into a dramatic situation, move
them and make them care what happens to his "little fellow." In my
opinion he succeeded admirably, for watching this movie almost 90 years
after it was released I find it still works beautifully, like a vintage
automobile kept in perfect working order.
Although this project marked a new chapter for Chaplin he concocted it from decidedly old-fashioned ingredients. The plot must have felt familiar to audiences even in 1916: leading lady Edna Purviance plays a young woman who was kidnapped by gypsies as a child and has been held captive as their "drudge" ever since. Charlie is a traveling musician who rescues her-- after an exhilarating fight in which Edna takes part --and, having fallen in love with her, is prepared to take care of her forever after, but the idyll is interrupted when a handsome young artist happens by and paints Edna's portrait, which he takes back to the city to exhibit. Her wealthy mother sees the picture in a gallery, recognizes a distinctive birthmark, and realizes that her daughter has been located. With the artist in tow, the mother arrives at Charlie's camp via automobile and brusquely takes her daughter away, leaving Charlie forlorn, but Edna belatedly becomes aware of her feelings for Charlie and orders the car to turn back and retrieve him.
As a lead-in to the melodrama concerning the gypsies Chaplin gives us a conventionally comic opening sequence set in a tavern, where Charlie, a busking fiddler, has a run-in with a combo of musicians who are competing for coins from the same clientèle. But even here it's striking how much Charlie has evolved since Keystone days: when he pockets the coins intended for the combo it's an honest mistake, he sincerely believes the money is a reward for his performance, and when he's confronted he doesn't understand why but promptly defends himself. Charlie is no longer the aggressor, no longer larcenous, drunk or rude: all of a sudden, and only two years after his screen debut, he's matured into a likable, sympathetic character.
It's to Chaplin's credit that the birthmark recognition device, ever popular in the world of operetta, is served up straight and somehow doesn't feel hokey. Maybe that's because THE VAGABOND plays like a dramatized folktale, what with its wicked gypsies, strolling minstrel, and damsel in distress; the birthmark feels just as natural in this context as Cinderella's glass slipper or Rapunzel's hair. Charlie's rescue of Edna and their escape together in one of the gypsies' own wagons is a thrilling sequence, splendidly filmed and edited, belying those critics who insist that Chaplin the director was somehow insufficiently "cinematic." This is followed by a poignant scene set the following morning in which Charlie helps Edna clean herself up. The tone is gentle and the gags are mild, and by the time the scene ends we're won over. Charlie doesn't have to "be funny" every moment he's on screen, we're hooked, we care what happens to this guy and the girl he's rescued. And when Edna's head is turned by another man and it looks like Charlie's going to get jilted, it's heart-breaking.
As noted, this is not the most laugh-packed comedy Chaplin ever made, but it's nonetheless one of his strongest short films and therefore highly recommended to silent comedy buffs and to anyone open to viewing great works from the cinema's early days. Personally I feel that THE VAGABOND is Chaplin's first short masterpiece.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In "The Vagabond," Charlie plays a street musician who rescues a girl, Edna
Purviance, from a gypsy camp. They set up their own little camp and Charlie
soon falls in love with Edna, but before long a rival soon appears in the
form of a painter who asks Edna to model for him. A wealthy woman sees the
painting in an exhibit and, as a result of a birthmark, recognizes Edna as
her daughter who was stolen away as a child. The mother and painter come
and sweep Edna up away from Charlie. However, as they drive away, she
suddenly demands that they go back and get Charlie, who gets into the car
with them and they all live happily ever after.
"The Vagabond," the third of Chaplin's twelve films for the Mutual Company, is probably the least humorous of the series, but it is also one of the most interesting. This film is essentially a melodrama, and serves as an important creative building block toward his heartfelt feature triumphs that would follow in the twenties and beyond. Chaplin's contract with Mutual gave him the freedom to experiment, and that he did. A film like this was a riskier proposition back in the age of slapstick when comedy was comedy and drama was drama. Today, this is not the first place to look for Chaplin the laugh-getter, but an interesting curio to examine when studying Chaplin's growth as an artist.
This must have seemed like a real change-of-pace from Chaplin when it first
came out, since it has a much different tone than almost any of his previous
short features. It has a few funny moments, but this time humor is not the
emphasis - except for the familiar presence of Charlie's usual tramp-like
character, it feels more like one of the short melodramas from the same era,
rather than a comedy.
As "The Vagabond", Charlie performs a few antics, mostly towards the beginning, but then gets involved in the life of a young woman in distress (Chaplin regular Edna Purviance), and the story turns more serious. It is not one of his best films, but it is always watchable, and is quite interesting as a fore-runner of the way that Chaplin would combine slapstick and humanity to much greater effect in the masterpieces that he would go on to create some years later.
The Vagabond is a funny short film that features Charlie Chaplin as The Tramp. Here he's a wandering violinist who bizarrely finds himself in a gypsy camp, where The Gypsy Drudge--the lovely Edna Purviance--is slaving over a wash tub. He falls in love right away. Several funny episodes here and an oddly happy ending, but there is plenty of Chaplin's stock in trade: masterful comedy, sight gags, and that Victorian sweetness that makes his films so special. Chaplin was a master of creating laughter and tears, and his best films do both. The Kid and City Lights are among the most emotional films you'll ever see. Edna Purviance made more than 20 films with Chaplin and should have been a star in her own right. Eric Campbell, Albert Austin, Charlotte Mineau, and Leo White (as a the gypsy hag) co-star.
Chaplin starts out The Vagabond playing in a bar, basically as a street
performer, but soon finds himself run out by the more fully developed
band who is unhappy that he's stealing their customers. Soon he wanders
out into the woods and almost aimlessly stumbles across a group of
backwards country people. There is a hunch-backed hag of a woman that
looks like a witch but is probably the wife of a mountain of a man who
likes to beat the women around him and carries a huge whip wherever he
goes. This guy is ripe for a slapstick smack down.
There's an amusing scene where a young girl is beaten by the man and then Charlie shows up and tries to cheer her up by going nuts on the violin, succeeding only in getting too excited and falling into a tub of water behind him. After a series of unfortunate events, he trades his trademark cane in for a bigger stick and proceeds to knock out all the men in sight, finally making off with the young girl and the family's house, which is really just a horse-drawn wagon.
I am curious about one of the first things that happens after he "liberates" her from her family. He takes a tub of water and roughly scrubs her face, sticking his fingers into her ears and nose while he washes her. The fact that he washes her face rather than allowing her to do it herself is obviously a physical comedy ploy, but it also gave me the feeling that he is sort of washing the country off of her, turning her into a respectable woman.
At any rate, soon she stumbles upon an artist who finds her so beautiful that he wants to paint her, and the result is so wonderful that she gains a following in the uppity art world. Soon some rich art fans show up to take save her from a life in rags and bring her, presumably, to the big city. Charlie refuses a reward (or payment for selling the girl, as it were) and simply hugs the girl and probably wishes her good luck as she sets off in the big car. But the girl decides she doesn't want to leave without him, so they turn around and go back for him.
This story is fraught with problems, of course, like if she would ever start to miss her family or if her upbringing in the big city would conflict with her background as a country girl, and the ending is also a little too cute and neat, but for Chaplin's early silent comedies, this is a very complex story with a definable beginning, middle and end. I felt a little uncomfortable during the face-washing scene, but overall this is definitely a higher quality example of Chaplin's early work.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Chaplin edited, wrote, directed, and produced this film for Mutual in July of 1916 and it stands the test of time, even more so than many of his earlier much funnier films. The reason probably is that the structure of this film, more than any predating it, resembles (however crudely) the basic plot structure of films today. There is a definitive beginning, middle, and end in this film. The film is well edited and written for its time. Chaplin plays a wandering vagabond who tries to make a living playing his violin in public. The film opens in typical Chaplin fashion with misunderstandings and chases punctuated by sight gags and slapstick. There are those viewers who may wander what the tavern scenario has to do with the rest of the film, and the answer is it sets up Chaplin as a resourceful fellow who gets by with his wits and not his fists. Thus when he meets the sad, browbeaten Edna Purviance, it's clear what Chaplin must do to extricate her from a band of cruel gypsies; he must use some good old-fashioned ingenuity. After rescuing her from the likes of the crude, whip-wielding Eric Campbell in comic fashion, the story settles into its melodramatic mode. The film successfully combines bits of comedy, plot, and pathos-inducing drama in a way that previous Chaplin films had not. The result is a rough draft of the Chaplin formula, which he would later reuse to greater effect and success in his longer features. *** of 4 stars.
"The Vagabond" represents quite an evolution for Chaplin. He had
already proved himself the funniest comedian on screen and was already
in the process of distancing himself from the crude and frantic
slapstick of Keystone. With this film, more than any afore, he
recreated the tramp as a character worthy of pity. Here begins the
pathetic hero whom audiences could invest their emotions in. At Mutual,
adding this drama to his refinements in his comedy, he created in the
tramp, cinema's most endearing and recognizable icon.
In the film, the vagabond violinist saves the girl (Edna Purviance, as usual) from a terrible gypsy chieftain who whips her. Although Charlie saves her by hitting the gypsies over the heads with a log, there isn't much that's funny about this sequence; it's as purely dramatic as Chaplin's films ever get. And, it perfectly sets Chaplin up as the hero for the sentimental denouement. Additionally, rather than an equally rough and comic clown or a heavy as the tramp's competition for the girl, here, it's a handsome gentleman artist--leaving the tramp feeling inadequate--and to us, more sympathetic than ever.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
We're slowly approaching the point where Charlie Chaplin movies
celebrate their 100th birthday. And a huge part of his work is still
superior to many films made today. "The Vagabond" features some regular
faces from other Chaplin films. Edna Purvance, who looks like a silent
film version of Greta Gerwig with her long curly blonde hair, is on
board again and so is the hilariously scary Eric Campbell, once again
using his physical presence in another nice effort as Charlie's main
antagonist. This film can be split into two halves, the first is pretty
much drama, the second contains mostly romance and of course both
feature a great deal of Charlie's trademark slapstick comedy.
Chaplin, in his usual outfit, does some street music with his violin and afterward meets a girl who is held under slave-like conditions including lots of screaming and even lashing from her boss. After some fighting, a hilarious sequence that has Chaplin up a tree, Charlie and the object of his affection manage to get away. Back in safety, the two meet a well-dressed who quickly turns into a love interest for the girl. It's a decent little short film, which drags occasionally, but also has its moment. It's probably one of my favorite endings from Chaplin's body of work. The farewell hug is the greatest thing ever, just so beautiful and sad at the same time and the final twist was really cute too. Recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A Musician-Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) leaves town following a chase to
find himself in a gypsy camp. There he finds a poor abducted girl (Edna
Purviance) who he attempts to cheer up with his music. Having witnessed
a savage beating of the girl by the gypsy chieftain (Eric Campbell),
the Tramp goes about saving the girl and setting her free. While
attempting to woo her, a handsome artist chances by and has Edna sit
for a portrait. The portrait attracts the attention of Edna's estranged
family who attempt to take her away from the Tramp for good.
I honestly can't think of a single Chaplin film during which I've laughed so little but on this occasion that is not a negative statement. Here Chaplin provides plenty of his trademark pathos and creates a film which is much more of a romantic drama than romantic comedy or slapstick comedy.
The film drives to depths of sadness which I simply wasn't prepared for and around a minute before the end I was starring dumbfounded at the screen. Charlie's attempts to maintain the romance are endearing but you always get the feeling that they are futile. There is a level of romantic lyricism which I haven't found in any Chaplin release prior to this one. For the most part Chaplin foregoes comedy in favour of letting the story unfold and only finds time for the odd knock to the head or spitting of water. To me this film really shows the development of Chaplin from the slapstick comedian of his Keystone and early Essanay days, towards the kind of romantic pathos that he became renowned for by the early 1930s.
Another obvious link between his early and latter career are the themes of the film. For me there is a link between this film and 1915s The Tramp and the idea of a beaten and brutalised gypsy girl is explored in even greater detail in 1928s The Circus. Both of those films end with the iconic footage of the Tramp walking away into the distance, happy and content, despite not getting the girl. The ending of The Vagabond seems to be heading down that line but thankfully takes a sharp turn. Given the sadness of the previous five or so minutes I don't think I could have taken any other ending! One interesting point about this film is the Tramp's entrance. The opening shot is of two saloon doors. After a few seconds some feet can be seen approaching the doors from the other side. After just a couple of frames it is obvious that it is the Tramp character from his distinctive walk, shoes and cane. Only those three things are visible until the doors open to reveal the whole man and it shows great confidence in the character's fame. I can think of no other screen character in history that could enter a scene with only their feet showing and the audience would know exactly who they are.
Although The Vagabond is certainly not a film I'd recommend to someone unfamiliar with Chaplin's work, for those with an understanding of his history it is a momentous film. Despite very little actual comedy, Chaplin still plays with his audience's emotions and creates a memorable and poignant film that includes two outstanding performances from himself and frequent co-star Edna Purviance.
By the time he made the Vagabond, Charlie Chaplin was not just the most
popular comic on the screen, he was a fully fledged hero of cinema. It
seemed that, so long as he continued to be funny, he could do no wrong,
and people would always want to watch him.
And just the opening shot of the Vagabond shows Chaplin's confidence in his own familiarity and popularity. He appears here as just a pair of feet below a saloon door, his gait alone being enough for audiences to recognise him. He then walks to the back of the set, to a point squeezed between the wall and the edge of the frame, while some other musicians set up in the foreground. The framing provided by the wall, plus the fact that the little tramp is inherently interesting to us as an audience, mean that our focus is upon him. These are not just good approaches for comedy, they are professional cinematic techniques that any director could put to use.
Then, as usually happens, a plot begins to emerge from this situation, but the Vagabond's is a plot with an important difference. Not because the story is extremely poignant (so were those in The Tramp and The Bank) or neatly structured (as was that of Police), but because Chaplin treats the dramatic scenes purely as drama. He backs up the subplot with a few completely straight scenes, with naturalistic acting and camera moves that would have been distracting in a comedy scene but give added impact here. The slow dolly back from Purviance's portrait, beginning with just the picture then gradually revealing its setting and the growing crowd of admirers, really demonstrates Chaplin's competence and understanding as a director.
But what is amazing here is the ease with which Chaplin and his cast are able to slip so freely between comedy and drama. Charlotte Mineau gives what must be her best performance, and Edna Purviance shows a greater expanse of her range than we have hitherto seen. Most incredible of all is the acting of Charlie himself, his face a little hard to read under the toothbrush moustache, but doing some carefully nuanced work with gesture and body language. Lastly an honourable mention goes to Leo White, one of my all-time favourite Chaplin co-stars, in his last ever appearance with Charlie. He's not easy to recognise here (he's the gypsy harridan!), but doing a nice and very funny job as always. This wasn't the end for White though; he had various supporting roles through the rest of the silent era, and has a blink-and-miss-it bit part in virtually every Warner Brothers picture of the 30s and 40s.
The only flaw in the Vagabond is the final twenty seconds, a vulgar and forced happy ending, although it is done smoothly enough so as not to ruin the overall feel of the picture. Even with this coda in place, we are left with a sense of satisfaction, of a story well told. And while Chaplin had done several strong and emotionally involving shorts before this, the Vagabond is perhaps the first one in which you could take out all the comedy and still be left with a decent drama. It was at this point that the little tramp really gained the stature to become a leading man.
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