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I've been a Chaplin fan since I was in grade school, and Easy Street
was the movie that converted me for keeps. It wasn't the first of his
films I saw, but once I'd seen it I knew that Charlie Chaplin was truly
as great as his reputation proclaimed. He's wonderful here, at the peak
of his powers, funny and moving and seemingly super-human, like some
kind of cartoon dynamo. And today, more than 30 years since I first
encountered it (and almost 90 years since it was made!) this is a film
I could watch again anytime, not just because it's funny -- although it
is -- but also for darker, more melancholy reasons. Easy Street is
certainly a comedy, but it's no one's idea of a light-hearted romp: the
humor in this story is rooted in poverty, violence and substance abuse,
and unfortunately all of these things are just as relevant today as
they were in 1917. It's well known that Chaplin grew up in dire
poverty, and it's reasonable to assume that the squalid world of this
ironically titled work is based on his childhood memories. This film
stands as proof that the greatest comedy is born out of pain, and
that's why I can return to it again and again, for although human
suffering is always topical and always relevant, so is the urge to
transcend suffering through humor. In this film Chaplin triumphs over
the deprivations of his own childhood, and viewers can share in his
In the opening scene we find Charlie fallen on hard times, no longer the dapper Gentleman Tramp of earlier appearances but a real derelict, ragged, pale, and sleeping on the ground. He is drawn to a nearby mission by the sound of singing, joins the congregation and soon pledges to go straight; he even proves his conversion is genuine by pulling the collection box from his baggy pants and returning it to the startled minister. Before long Charlie has applied for the job of police officer in the roughest neighborhood imaginable, Easy Street, a slum ruled by an enormous bully, magnificently portrayed by actor Eric Campbell. The unfortunate Mr. Campbell, who would be killed in a car accident less than a year after giving this performance, deserves a belated nod of respect for making Easy Street such a memorable experience. Although clearly intended as a comic caricature, Campbell's nameless bully is nonetheless a formidable figure, a mighty beast with a shaved head and heavy eyebrows, and the close-ups that reveal Campbell's stage makeup do nothing to diminish his powerful aura.
The film's most unforgettable sequence comes when Officer Charlie, dressed in a Keystone Cop style uniform as he nervously walks his beat for the first time, suddenly comes face-to-face with Campbell, an ogre several times his size. The scene is filmed in a single lengthy take, beginning with a tracking shot as Charlie strolls down the sidewalk, encounters the bully, and then tries to stand up to him. The bully, who appears to be made of granite, becomes increasingly sure of himself as Charlie falters. When Charlie finally resorts to clubbing him over the head, the blows have no effect whatever; in fact, the bully impassively offers his head for more clubbing, just to demonstrate how little it bothers him. Charlie tries to flee, but the bully yanks him back and starts toying with him, like a cat tormenting a mouse before moving in for the kill. Scary, right? Well it's funny in the movie, but scary too, and it comes as a relief when Charlie (in an iconic moment as familiar as Harold Lloyd dangling from the clock) resourcefully uses a nearby gas lamp to subdue the bully -- temporarily, anyway.
While the scenes with Campbell are moments to savor, there are also a number of low-key sequences involving the lady from the mission, played by Chaplin's perennial leading lady Edna Purviance, and during these scenes we get a vivid picture of life on Easy Street. Edna takes Charlie to a flat full of kids whose exhausted-looking parents obviously can't cope. Charlie, impressed with the scrawny Dad's ability to father so many children, quietly pins his own badge on the man's chest. It's a sadly funny moment, but the larger picture is bleak, and before the story is over we've been presented with images of domestic abuse and drug addiction. None of this material is prettified or sentimentalized in the "Hollywood" manner; this looks more like newsreel footage, and some viewers may well find it depressing. Easy Street is no stroll in the park, but somehow Chaplin is able to leave us on a note of hope, even while making it clear (with one last gag involving the reformed bully and his wife) that he's fully aware of the wishful thinking involved. Still, it's a beautiful ending to a great movie, one that demonstrates Chaplin's artistry as beautifully as any short film he ever made.
Easy Street starts with Charlie with as a poor, destitute tramp. After
attending a storefront revival service, and meeting the always
delightful Edna Purviance, he decides to turn his life around. He
quickly gets a job as a policeman and he finds himself assigned to Easy
Street, the worst neighborhood in the city ruled by tough Eric
Campbell. Using his own unorthodox tactics, Charlie eventually subdues
Eric and neighborhood and they all live happily ever after.
Easy Street was one of the twelve films Chaplin made for Mutual. Mutual gave Chaplin unprecedented freedom and responded by giving them, overall, twelve of the best comedy shorts ever made. Easy Street is easily the best of them. It is a very funny short. This is the film I show when I want to introduce someone to Chaplin or silent films in general. The gags are inventive, and they are extremely well-played by his regular company of Mutual performers. Chaplin himself is at his best in this film, but where would he be without Eric Campbell, the best heavy he ever played against. (Sadly, Campbell would die in a car accident after the completion of the Mutual comedies. His loss would be felt in the First National comedies, which rarely reached the heights of the best Mutual work.)
But there is more to Easy Street than laughs. It is unusually mature for a silent comedy of its period. Chaplin usually presented his tramp character as a happy-go-lucky figure - a vagabond by choice, not circumstance. This film starts with the tramp as a down-and-out character, much in need of the new beginning he gets at the mission. In perhaps his first attempt at social commentary, Chaplin provides an unblinking view of ills of the society of the time. The most graphic example is the drug addict shooting up with a needle. People often have a misconception of silent comedies being simply quaint. That isn't quaint.
This is a must see.
Easy Street is one of the first films that really solidified Chaplin's
intentions to continue to represent the poorer people of society. In this
film, Chaplin's common rich vs. poor theme is especially prevalent in the
way that the predicament of the poor is presented, and especially given the
fact that, at this point in his career, Chaplin was earning roughly $10,000
Although this is one of Chaplin's best short films, it is strange that in the church near the beginning of the film, he turns the hymn book upside down as though he can't read, but then he is soon able to read the help wanted sign at the police station. At any rate, after he leaves the church, having found Jesus, he finds the streets seething with comical violence. He sees that the police are looking to hire, and his hesitant entrance into the police station is one of the funniest parts of the entire film.
Clearly, it's amusing enough to see the tramp in a policeman's uniform, but the way that he and the bully that seems to have claimed ownership of Easy Street interact is also some classic comedy. The irony in this film is that Charlie is trying to get this huge guy under control so that he will stop terrorizing the people, but then when he does, in fact, defeat him, the people are afraid of HIM. As is almost always the case when Charlie performs some heroism in his films (usually inadvertently), he acts like it was no big deal when people arrive (see the scene in The Gold Rush when Jack gets knocked out by a falling clock, and Charlie thought that he had done it).
The part that most clearly represents Charlie's sympathy for the poor in this film is the scene when he catches the woman stealing from the sleeping street vendor. At first, it seems that he is going to turn her in, but he is so heartbroken that he runs to the street vendor (who is still asleep), and steals more food for the woman, and then encourages her to hurry off before the vendor wakes up and realizes what has happened.
This rich vs. poor theme is one of the many that traverses a good majority of Chaplin's career, but there are many other things that can be seen in his later films, like the love interest element of The Bank that can be seen in a very similar form later in City Lights. In this film, there is a short sequence where Charlie sits on a hypodermic needle that had been used by a man to shoot up with (something like that wouldn't be quite as funny if it was done today), and his reaction to the small dose of the drug is almost exactly the same as that in Modern Times, when he pours cocaine onto his food, thinking it's salt.
Easy Street is an entertaining and heartwarming story in many ways, and the ending leaves the feeling that something has really been accomplished in the film. As Charlie calmly walks the sidewalks in his policeman's uniform, everyone on the street is orderly and well dressed, and even the bully tips his hat to Charlie as he walks by. Unfortunately, very few people watch Chaplin's films anymore, but even if only a few are watched, this should definitely be one of them.
When a tramp decides to go straight, he returns the money he has just
stolen from a mission and commits to putting back into his community by
joining the police force. Unfortunately for him his assigned patrol is
Easy Street a virtual no-go area controlled by a violent and
intimidating bully. Unaware of this the young tramp heads onto the
Very highly rated on this site, this short film is a typical Chaplin film as it mixes comedy with an social heart. In this regard I must admit that I found it amusing (but not hilarious) and engaging (but hardly cutting in its insight). What I supposed is most telling is that the film isn't dated and boring, it still seems fresh and lively even though technology has moved so far ahead of the period; that doesn't mean it is brilliant but it must stand for something I guess. The scenes are well laid out and tickled me but personally I much prefer the shorts of Laurel & Hardy for their sheer comedy value.
Chaplin is his usual reliable self and does his tramp personae well. He is given sturdy support specifically from Campbell as the E Street bully but also from others who react to Chaplin rather than doing something themselves. Overall then an amusing little short that will please Chaplin fans. Not one of his best but certainly worth a look for those with more than a passing interest in the man.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Deservedly, many consider "Easy Street" one of Chaplin's best short
films. Chaplin was in his last year at Mutual and was in top form;
"Easy Street" is also considerably different from his other Mutual
pictures. Social commentary and the like often appear in much of his
work, but here, for the first time, satire underlines this commentary
throughout the picture. Thus, depictions of poverty, lawlessness,
street and marital violence and drug use mingle comfortably with the
usual uproarious comedy--and by this time, matured slapstick and
pantomime--one expects from Charlie.
In addition to that, Chaplin manages to balance and blend the different styles characteristic of comedy and social commentary. There's the makeup typical of slapstick for Eric Campbell, the impoverished look of other characters and the realistic look for those like Edna Purviance's character. I think the police outfits resembling those of the Keystone Kops, like the one Chaplin dons, are a particularly nice throwback to the Keystone tradition Chaplin began from but had since surpassed.
The settings for Easy Street and the surrounding (within the photoplay) area also reflect these dual styles. It certainly looks like a slum, but at the same time, the sets are recognizably artificial--obviously movie studio sets. Furthermore, the props, such as the lamppost, sometimes take on a cartoonish effect. And, for all the harsh violence occurring on it, Easy Street is full with soft contours. Yet, it works well. It would have been great if it expanded spatially to free it and the film from a flat, theatrical position, but such is to be expected from a 1917 production, and to the credit of Chaplin and usual cinematographer Roland Totheroh, they do vary the shots somewhat. The sets are impressive otherwise in creating a confined, dualistic atmosphere.
Additionally, Chaplin hadn't been so much the hero of a story since "The Vagabond". "Easy Street" features the most successful variation on Chaplin and Eric Campbell's David and Goliath. Campbell is meaner than ever, and they act out two ingenious, comical set pieces for the tramp-turned-policeman to slay him. The concurrent solutions of force and regeneration are also seamless in concluding this impressively matured and substantive Chaplin short.
"Easy Street" is unsurpassed among Chaplin's short comedies, an extremely
funny film that also has depth and sensitivity. The combination is done
especially well here. Charlie plays a tramp who has a religious experience,
becomes a policeman, and tries to clean up the violence and crime on "Easy
Street". He tries to help the many poor of the neighborhood, while
combating the street's toughs, leading to some memorable confrontations with
burly villain Eric Campbell. There is some terrific slapstick interspersed
with some compassionate scenes of the effects of poverty and crime on the
innocents of the area. Chaplin uses a lot of his comic talent and a good
variety of gags, and combines it with some thoughtful portrayals of
This is Chaplin at his best, and it is as good as any of his many short films. It will be a favorite for most Chaplin fans, and a good place to start for those wanting to take a look at his short features.
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)
This is as complete a 2 reeler (each reel was about 10 minutes in the
old days) as you can get in a silent film. Charlie Chaplin is really in
character & in stride in this movie.
The setting of the plot in the mission & on a poor neighborhood street is drawn from Chaplin's own childhood. The bully was too, although he was probably a composite of those who mistreated Chaplin as a child. The tramp becoming a hero is no better done than in this story.
The film not only has excellent comedy, but manages to pull a little on the heart strings without getting too emotional. Edna Purviance provides an excellent female lead. Eric Campbell plays the giant bully very well too. Charlie is in great form too.
If your into checking out 2 reel comedies,I highly recommend this film. This is one that made 2 reeler's an art form during this era of silent films.
Mr. Chaplin,of course, had gotten his initiation into the Motion
Picture Business with Mack Sennettat the Keystone Studio. The year was
1914 and Mack signed Charlie to a one year deal. Acting and physical
comedy were all deeply embedded in the Chaplin personality as he had
just about grown up on the stage. He had done a lot of different work,
including the boy in the stage play, THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.
At the time of his discovery by Sennett (There was no American Idol Show then!)he had just finished a tour of the States in a show called, "A NIGHT IN THE English MUSIC HALL", which was called "THE MUMMING BIRDS" in Britain. He had a featured part in a sketch where he played an annoying Drunk.* Also in the show was a fellow Englishman by the name of Arthur Stanley Jefferson, a Red Headed lad who took the Stage Name of Stan Laurel.** After this first year in the Sennett Stable, the young Chaplin's stock had risen considerably. He had started out as mostly a supporting player and quickly moved up the ladder to featured comic. By the end of 1914,he was writing, directing and acting in front of the camera. Enter Essanay.
The Essanay Film Manufacturing Corporation of Chicago was founded by partners George K.Spoor and G.M. Anderson(better known as Broncho Billy).*** The name is derived from the 'S' in Spoor and the 'A' in Anderson. Hence we get S and A, or the single name, "Essanay".
Spoor and Anderson opened up their coffers in order to obtain the services of Charlie. He also got plenty of perks in the deal. He would essentially be his own boss, writing, directing, etc. hat was good for 1915, but what next?
In 1917 the Chaplin show moved on. Now a fresh new deal was inked with 'The Little Tramp' late in '16. Mr. Charles Chaplin now had big buck$ in $alary, lot$ of ca$h for budgetary consideration and full artistic freedom. He could make his films as he wanted, taking whatever time needed, employing what methods he saw fit to use.
All that resulted was a fabulous 12 two reel films, each one a gem. He had elevated the 2 reeler Comedy Short Subject to the level of most Feature Films. The films would be released as a production of Mutual's Lone Star comedies. Much like Jackie Gleason's HONEYMOONERS episodes of '50's Television fame, it is just about impossible to pick a favourite.
EASY STREET has always been rated right up at the top of the bunch to this writer. In it the Little Tramp is seen as a "Derilict", living on 'Skid Row' and will do just about any thing. After meeting up with a lovely Mission Lady (Edna Purviance), Charlie is smitten and vows to make himself. As he leaves the Salvation Army-Type Rescue Mission, he even gives back the collection basket that he has stolen.
The Tramp soon answers a 'Help Wanted' sign hanging on the local Police Station. Then for the remaining three quarters of this film we see a great variety of the finest mixtures of sight gags and true sentiment. He proves to be firm, yet charitable. His persona as a Police Officer is multi-faceted. He is not only the 'Man', or the 'Big Heat'.
The sequence leading up to his tangling with the Bully of Easy Street (Eric Campbell) is a magnificently engineered gag upon gag, finally reaching a crescendo. And, just when victory seems to be at hand, the 'Problem' returns.
The end of the film shows that Beat Cop Chaplin not only has been successful in 'cleaning-up' of Easy Street crime conditions, but also has done okay with the Mission Lady.
Just as an after thought, in looking at this 1917 Comedy, we may very well have a glimpse into the heart and soul of The Little Trasmp. In his later years in the U.S.A., Mr. Chaplin came under suspicion for his Political Beliefs. This was the era of one Joe Stalin and the "Red Scare". Charles had gotten a reputation for his inquiry about radical or 'Un-American Idologies, not that he ever opened up his check book to Moscow or anything like that. Anyway as we all know, he was refused re-admission into the United States following a European trip in 1952.You see, Chaplin had never become a U.S. Citizen and had been classified as an "Undesirable Alien". He did not return until 20 years later when he received a Special Oscar at the 1972 Academy Awards.
Examination of the Morale at the End of EASY STREET would seem to contradict the presence of any Communist sentiments. A very poetic Title Card tells of the need for both Social Compassion and a Law Abiding citizenry. It's there, honest! Just watch it! * Elements of his act a very much in evidence in many of his early films at Keystone, Essanay and Mutual.
** Yes, that same guy who later gained immortality as 1/2 of the Film Comedy Team of Laurel & Hardy. Besides his own parts, Stan also understudied Charlie's Drunk Act.
*** "Broncho Billy" was the first Western Hero on the screen. While Chaplin was at the Essanay Company, He appeared in a cameo shot in the G.M. Anderson, "Broncho Billy" film, HIS REGENERATION. Mr. Anderson reciprocated and was in a Chaplin CVomedy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Until late in his career, Charlie Chaplin's films often displayed a
real "Populist" bent--advocating, indirectly, for better treatment for
the poor and basic fairness. Later in life, this was taken to be an
affinity for Communism or Socialism, but at this time in history, it
was strongly in sync with the American ethos. Later, after feeling
disinherited from his adopted country, he showed incredibly cynicism
and disgust for humanity (such as in the terribly dark MONSIEUR
This film is probably the best example of this social conscience. Charlie becomes a policeman and is sent into the most dangerous and horrid slum to "clean up the place". Most of the film is spent trying to apprehend the chief "baddie"--a mountain of a man played by Eric Campbell. It's very funny and great entertainment to see Charlie, through wits and agility, succeed.
At the end, after the town has been pacified, we see the Utopian view of society as envisioned by Chaplin. The streets are clean, people (including Campbell) are decently dressed and civilized, employment agencies and social service agencies adorn the streets and all is well. Believe it or not, this did not seem preachy or out of place, as this ideal society was well-integrated into the film and gave a sweet positive ending to the film--much better than the police just bashing the bad guys up side the head and jailing everyone. Is this realistic? Not exactly, but it sure is nice to see how he saw how life COULD be in a better world.
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