When Charlie the Tramp wanders into a mission he is smitten by Edna and puts back the collection box which he has taken. Reformed, he becomes a policeman and is assigned to rough-and-tumble Easy Street. Unable to trick or beat Eric the Tough, he puts Eric's head in a gas pipe and anesthetizes him. A hero, he now helps many poor people living on Easy Street. Eric escapes jail, Edna is kidnapped, but Charlie (recharged after sitting on a doper's needle) conquers all. Easy Street is transformed as is Eric. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
A title card says "Back on top again". A tramp huddles in a doorway below a sign saying "Hope". Does this look like the opening to a slapstick comedy? In this, the ninth of Charlie Chaplin's pictures at Mutual studios, it is indeed a good few minutes before we even get a joke. But such was the delicacy and professionalism Chaplin put into his craft audiences did not, and still do not mind.
While many of Chaplin's preceding pictures had featured some element of drama or poignancy, you can see in Easy Street that his merging of the two with comedy is now completely seamless. He is continually switching from one to the other, setting up deeper moments then bursting them with a gag. He even uses one to set up the other. An early Chaplin picture might have had us follow Charlie the rookie cop and discover with him how rough his beat is, but what we actually get is several cuts to scenes of fighting on Easy Street, culminating in the mighty Eric Campbell scaring off all comers. Campbell struts around the now empty street for a moment, and then, in the background, Charlie comes plodding round the corner. All those shots of the scuffle go towards building up this iconic and very funny entrance.
Although Chaplin himself is on top form here, a couple of honourable mentions should go out to his supporting cast. This is perhaps the ultimate burly bully role for Eric Campbell. When you see him in that melee, he even looks like a big man among other big men, not just because of his gargantuan size but the way he carries that size. I love that close-up of him swallowing the key. If you're a good lip-reader you can tell he's saying "Ya see this? Ya see it?" which you have to imagine in a thick Scotch brogue (Campbell was from Strathclyde). Then there is a lesser-known Chaplin-regular, Charlotte Mineau, playing Big Eric's wife. Mineau was normally just a type-filler for a slightly older woman, but here she gets to show off her own slapstick skills, doing some very athletic bounce-back manoeuvres when Campbell pushes her over. For some unknown reason this was her last appearance for Chaplin.
Easy Street is not the funniest Chaplin short by a long shot, but it is surely his best merging of dramatic and comedic elements so far. What other comedian of this period was tackling crime in the slums, domestic violence and drug abuse? Come to think of it, what mainstream filmmaker was? And in spite of its weighty subject matter Easy Street provides the laughs and the entertainment. When you look at how nicely done it is on all levels, you can see not only was Chaplin making by far the best comedies of the time, he was making some of the best pictures of any kind.
Here comes the all-important statistic
Number of kicks up the arse: 1 (1 for)
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