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The Immigrant (1917)

Unrated | | Short, Comedy, Drama | 17 June 1917 (USA)
Charlie is an immigrant who endures a challenging voyage and gets into trouble as soon as he arrives in America.

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
...
Eric Campbell ...
Albert Austin ...
Russian / Restaurant diner
Henry Bergman ...
Kitty Bradbury ...
Frank J. Coleman ...
...
Café violinist
Tom Harrington ...
Marriage registrar
...
Shabby man in restaurant
John Rand ...
Tipsy diner
Janet Sully ...
Passenger (as Janet Milly Sully)
...
Pint-sized passenger
Tom Wilson ...
Gambler on ship
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Storyline

Charlie is on his way to the USA. He wins in a card game, puts the money in Edna's bag (she and her sick mother have been robbed of everything). When he retrieves a little for himself he is accused of being a thief. Edna clears his name. Later, broke, Charlie finds a coin and goes into a restaurant. There he finds Edna, whose mother has died, and asks her to join him. When he reaches for the coin to pay for their meals it is missing (it has fallen through a hole in his pocket). Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

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Genres:

Short | Comedy | Drama | Romance

Certificate:

Unrated | See all certifications »
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Release Date:

17 June 1917 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Modern Columbus  »

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (restored)

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the film's copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS/DVD copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film. See more »

Goofs

An axe disappears off a wall between shots during the craps game. Chaplin originally shot a gag using the axe (photos of this sequence exist), but cut it from the final film, which created a continuity error. See more »

Quotes

Edna, Immigrant: Mother has lost her money.
See more »

Connections

Featured in The 79th Annual Academy Awards (2007) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Full hearts and empty pockets ...
17 May 2013 | by See all my reviews

In 1917, immigration in America lit the fire of a widespread xenophobic sentiment leading to the infamous "Immigration Act" that barred the road to such undesirables as "criminals", "anarchists", "homosexuals", "beggars" or "feeble-minded persons". In a fitting coincidence, the same year, Charles Chaplin made "The Immigrant", if not the best, the most prophetic of what would become one of Cinema's most valuable and influential talents.

Given the historical context of the "Immigration Act", one must wonder in which "category" the Tramp would have fallen had he existed: he's naive, quite atypical, broke, and the way he kicks one of Ellis Island's agents is such an equivocal image that it would be used by the HUAC to demonstrate Chaplin's Anti-Americanism. Yet the film doesn't make obvious statements regarding immigration: in the steamer that crosses the Atlantic in the beginning, there are pickpockets, gamblers and cheaters, probable criminals but there are also decent and honest people as well. And ultimately, there is the Tramp.

In simpler words, without immigration, the world wouldn't have discovered Charlie Chaplin, and that was enough a reason to make a film about the subject. "The Immigration" was Chaplin's first self-immersion into his own creations when the Tramp ceased to be a vagabond coming from nowhere and going anywhere, he and Chaplin would make one. It's a turning point in Chaplin's body of work as every film would echo a part of his own history. Yet, despite its serious undertones, the film is light-hearted not to deprive the theme from its gravity, but maybe because immigration carried positive feelings like ambition, solidarity and hope for brighter futures. "The Kid" would cover more solemn subjects.

"The Immigrant" is divided in two acts: the first is set in the ship, the second in a restaurant. Through a laudable effort of mise-en-scene and storytelling, Chaplin manages to pull these two parts together so they don't feel disjointed. The first sequence shows a steamer crossing the Atlantic, full of archetypal emigrants: bearded men with towering hats, and heads-carved women. It's moving as it depicts a part of America's history still recent at that time, and simultaneously, it creates a funny contrast with the moderately exotic Tramp: his presence among the immigrants is enough to bring the first laughs.

At the arrival in New York, the sight of the Statue of Liberty rewards the patience of these people who underwent persecutions, poverty, hunger and probably the worst of all, seasickness. The 'boat' part is the more emotionally and politically charged, and in its way, it elevates the film above the standards initially set by Chaplin. The Ellis Island part even reminds of "The Godfather Part II", without the sepia tones. Still, Chaplin knows that the audience expect laughs, that the transition between comedy and drama shall not be abrupt, hence the slapstick use of the boat's movements (that maybe inspired these Tex Avery gags where characters felt sick by watching a random sea-picture going up and down).

And this running gag foreshadows the use of moving objects in Chaplin's humor, from the blizzard blowing people away in "The Gold Rush", to the elevating chairs in "The Great Dictator". Other hints, more serious this time, of his later works are present through the character of the Girl (Edna Purviance) with her ill mother. The Tramp wins some money after a card game, and surreptitiously put his win in the girl's pocket, ignoring that it came from the man who stole her. This is the typical example of Chaplin's humanity: helping without expecting recognition; it's "City Lights". And naturally, it's the perfect plot device so that, victim of his own generosity, he arrives is New York, with a full heart and empty pockets.

The second part is more of a sketch, but this is not to diminish it. Chaplin goes to the restaurant, not noticing that the coin he found on the street went through the hole in his pocket. He meets the poor little immigrant who just lost her mother and to complete the picture, there is the big and burly waiter played by Eric Campbell, Chaplin's archenemy, in one of his last roles. Campbell is equal to Chaplin, almost stealing the show as the waiter who violently ejects a poor client short of 10 cents. The violence only serves the gags, when Chaplin realizes he doesn't have the money and tries to hide it from the waiter, watch the body language of the two actors, you could tell there was a great complicity between both. It's not only funny, but it's probably one of the few comedy moments relying on a form of thrilling suspense.

The ending is a bit rushed, but the essential was there, promising greater films to come. If not the best or the most memorable of his films, with its share of gags, and its serious undertones; it's one of Chaplin's most defining works, especially regarding the context of the film. 1917 wasn't only the year of the Immigration Act, it was the pinnacle of WWI, while the Bolshevik revolution planted the seeds of a New Order. Only a director like D.W. Griffith could embody the transformations that Modernity was applying to the world, in sweat, blood and tears. "The Immigrant" doesn't have the epic scope of "Intolerance", not even the pretension to compete with "The Birth of a Nation", but within its own simplicity, the film highlights the birth of a new talent, not of an actor, but of a director.

Indeed, if Charlie Chaplin is my favorite movie director, it's less because I believe he is the best, but because I believe his contribution to cinema as an artistic art form has never been equaled, not in his lifetime, not even after. The revolution he brought up in 1917 relies less on technicality than a particular skill in terms of storytelling in the way they vehicle a wide range of emotions in one single scene.


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