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This legendary comedy stands as one of Charlie Chaplin's great
achievements, a seamless blend of humor, romance, suspense and social
commentary, all packed into an 18-minute running time! It's especially
impressive when you consider that only three years earlier Chaplin was
a complete novice at movie making, cranking out reels of often crude
and chaotic slapstick for Mack Sennett. But in The Immigrant, Chaplin
displays a self-assured command of contemporary film-making skills
(i.e. cinematography, editing, and basic story structure) equal or
superior to that of the era's top directors. Most impressive of all is
Charlie himself: his iconic character is in full bloom, fresh and funny
and full of life. He's a marvel, and a joy to watch.
The first half of this film is set on the sort of beat-up, wildly rocking cattle boat that served as passage to America for an entire generation of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it's certain that many of the people who saw The Immigrant when it was new could relate to the experience first-hand. Charlie is one of a large group of voyagers, seemingly of Eastern European origin (although this is never specified) emigrating to the United States. Some viewers may find the humor in these scenes vulgar, what with the relentless sea-sickness motif. The very first shot of the film suggests that Charlie is already suffering from a violent bout of mal-de-mere, although a surprise twist reveals we've jumped to the wrong conclusion. Whether you find these gags amusing or not, they're based on harsh reality only slightly exaggerated for comic effect; after all, before he was famous Chaplin himself came to America with the Fred Karno comedy troupe in a boat not unlike the one seen here, and his memory of that experience must still have been fresh -- unpleasantly so.
In any event, the highlights of the shipboard sequence include Charlie's attempts to navigate the slick floor of the dining hall, his meeting with Edna and her mother, and a game of cards with fellow passengers, including one burly guy with a very bad temper. The first half closes with one of Chaplin's most famous gags: as the immigrants get their first view of the Statue of Liberty the camera lingers for a moment on their expressions, at which point they are suddenly pushed back behind a rope line and then herded through customs like cattle by brusque, uniformed officials. As this takes place, Charlie sneaks a quick look back at the horizon, as if wondering whether Miss Liberty is really out there after all, and then he manages to give one of the rude officials a swift kick. A most satisfying moment, that.
The second half of The Immigrant takes place in a restaurant, and this sequence is a comic tour-de-force in and of itself. Charlie, hungry and broke, enters the restaurant thinking he has at least enough money to pay for an order of beans and a cup of coffee. When he realizes he's mistaken about his ability to pay, his prime objective is to escape the wrath of enormous waiter Eric Campbell, who is almost as menacing here as he was playing the bully in Easy Street. Campbell is a huge factor (so to speak) in making this sequence work so beautifully, as he had a knack for portraying comic villainy in a way that was both funny and genuinely frightening; Charlie's fear at what may happen if he fails to pay his check feels very believable. The many ingenious devices Charlie contrives to avoid facing the music make up the rest of the show, and as the suspense mounts the gags get funnier. (It was interesting to learn from the documentary "Unknown Chaplin" that this sequence was written and filmed first, and that the lead-in material on the boat was devised afterward.) It's in the restaurant that Charlie also reunites with his shipboard sweetheart Edna. Their relationship feels natural, touching, and real, and provides this wonderful comedy with an appropriately poignant finale.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Immigrant" is one of Charlie Chaplin's most beloved short films,
and while it's highly enjoyable, that probably has more to do with its
representation of American ideals. Himself British, Chaplin and Edna
Purviance play immigrants. The first part of the film has them aboard a
ship set for the states. These scenes are mostly Chaplin's typically
refined slapstick and pantomime, but there's also a tendency towards a
style of actuality, or documentary-like scenes--rather like the social
realism pictures, such as with the opening shots of the immigrants.
There are also the sweet, tender moments and the pathos. By now, Chaplin had realized the tramp as a sympathetic protagonist whom audiences could root for, which is quite a transformation from his earlier incarnations. Once again, Chaplin balances seemingly perpendicular approaches fluently. There are very funny moments, such as in the restaurant and the gambling scene; sweet moments such as the ending; and of the actuality-like aspects, many have remarked on the shot of the Statue of Liberty.
Additionally, the happy ending with the artist represents the ideal of America as the land of opportunity. Some see a hint of social commentary, or slight criticizing, of America, as well, in "The Immigrant"; the scene where the tramp kicks an immigration officer in the bum having supposedly aroused FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to eventually revoke Chaplin's visa, as represented in the biopic "Chaplin" (1992). Besides some generally politically neutral commentary on poverty and such, I don't see it; it's completely the opposite: "The Immigrant" is an undisguised tribute to America as the land of opportunity (as it certainly was for Chaplin) and other such ideals. And, if "The Immigrant" seems episodic at times, it's only indicative of the need for him to make longer films to better entertain and more fully express his ideas, which he would at First National.
The Immigrant is one of Chaplin's early short films, with a very simple
story but Chaplin makes it work. The thing that makes this early short film
work so well is Chaplin's skill at slapstick comedy, it's so much fun to
watch him try to deal with these endless predicaments that he gets into that
you don't even pay attention to the simplicity of the story.
The majority of Chaplin's early films, particularly the short films like The Immigrant, are little more than brief comedy skits. But the value here does not lie in the story of the film, it lies in seeing how well Chaplin fits the role and how entertaining it is, even by todays standards, to watch his face as he realizes that he has dropped his money, after watching a man get beaten up for being ten cents short. The Immigrant is a classic because it is a Charlie Chaplin film, and really for no other reason. Chaplin makes it work, and he does it extremely well.
A group of immigrants travel on a boat to their new lives in America. On
the boat the little tramp meets and befriends and helps a young lady whose
mother has lost all her money. Months later he is in a restaurant when he
meets her again. He wants to look after her but the prospects look bleak,
as he cannot even pay for the food they are currently eating.
This is one of the later shorts that Chaplin made for Mutual Films and it is starting to show an element of the poignancy that he brought to his later features. The plot sees him take pity on a young lady even when they are both down on their luck and to stick together even when things are looking rough until things suddenly begin to look up for them both. The film has no extreme physical routines but it does have ongoing gags the guts of this film is in the restaurant rather than the boat. It is still amusing and the story is better developed than some of his other shorts.
Chaplin is excellent, doing trademark hat flicks etc while Purviance is much better here than other mutual shorts simply because she has a good role. Fans will love it and it's steady foundation and gentle humour may win others over.
This was my first ever exposure to the works of Charlie Chaplin and
remains one of my favorites. We watched THE IMMIGRANT at the
introduction to our discussion of silent film in my film history class
and it was this movie (as well as EASY STREET, my all-time favorite
Chaplin) that solidified my Chaplin fandom. It's clever, funny, and
tells a pretty coherent story over the course of its meager twenty-four
minute run-time, which isn't necessarily the case for all his films in
my opinion. Whereas some just seem to drop Chaplin in an amusing
situation and let him do his thing (e.g. THE CURE, where he's let loose
in a health spa), THE IMMIGRANT tells the brief story of
immigrant. Chaplin's lovable tramp is one of many immigrants huddled
aboard a ship bound for America where he hopes to make a new life. On
his journey, he meets and falls for a beautiful woman making the
journey to America with her ill mother. Upon making landfall, Chaplin
is penniless (having given his gambling winnings to the beautiful woman
after her mother's money was stolen) and hungry. He finds a coin in the
streets and pops into a restaurant for a meal when he crosses paths
with the woman again. He continues to woe her, hoping to win her heart
while at the same time dodging the angry brute of a waiter who's not
afraid to rough up patrons who try to skip out on a bill.
THE IMMIGRANT is one of the most consistently funny Chaplin short films I've had the pleasure of watching. The gags are funny and, unlike some of his other films, the jokes don't run on too long. As I mentioned before, I also love the fact that there's a solid little story in there. It's the usual stuff: boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy wins girl. We've seen the same thing in plenty of his films, but it's the jokes and visual gags that make each movie special. I love the entire restaurant sequence, with Chaplin caught between trying to win the woman's heart while quietly panicking over his restaurant bill when his coin is discovered to be bogus. It's a fun movie and that doesn't wear out it's welcome halfway through with stale gags. I always have a hard time writing comments on Chaplin's films and putting up a convincing argument for new people to check them out; these movies were made before cinematography was more than some basic lighting and a locked down camera so there really isn't much to say aside from it's funny. Check it out. It won me over and, if you've never seen it, it might win you over as a Chaplin fan too.
Chaplin plays an immigrant on a ship bound for America. While on the ship,
he helps a fellow immigrant, Edna Purviance, whose mother had been robbed.
Chaplin meets Purviance later at a restaurant where they are spotted by an
artist who hires them to be models. Chaplin uses the advance to buy a
"The Immigrant" is generally considered to be one of Chaplin's finest shorts. That is true. It is one of his funniest. However, I do not consider it as finely-crafted on the whole as many of the other Mutual films. "The Immigrant" feels like two separate one-reelers, featuring the some of the same characters, strung together. We have a shipboard reel and a restaurant reel. The only common characters from both segments are Chaplin and Purviance. (I don't count members of the stock company who appear in both segments as different characters.) There is no overarching plot combining the segments, and the film also suffers from the lack of a consistent heavy throughout. This weak story structure hampers the overall effectiveness of the short, but doesn't detract too much from comedy. The first segment has some of the more elaborate gags, like eating dinner on the wave-tossed ship, but I prefer the more subtle humor of the second half as Chaplin tries to figure out how to avoid the wrath of his tough waiter when he discovers he doesn't have any money to pay for his meal.
Much political hay is made of Chaplin kicking the immigration officials after the ship passes the Statue of Liberty. Leftist supporters look at it as an early example of his "heroic" anti-totalitarian political sentiments, while critics take it as a nasty, early anti-American statement. I believe both groups are guilty of wrongly transposing the political sensibilities of the late-forties and early- fifties back into the teens. Robinson's excellent book "Chaplin: His Life and Art" thoroughly examines the issue and shows that Chaplin intended no political message. (Write something like that on the Chaplin newsgroup and watch people argue for months!)
Charlie, however, would have plenty of time for politics later!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Immigrant (1917)
A Sweet Summation of What Chaplin Was--and Is
This short Charlie Chaplin feature, just under half an hour, is easy to love and still modern in its greater sensibility. It plays with familiar attitudes--winning money then having to give it all away, or just boy meets girl--and it keeps them fresh, even now, almost a century later.
Chaplin shows off physical comedy with compactness on the boat--the rocking back and forth is just short of frenetic at times, though we never quite get dizzy (at least not on the small screen), I think because his movements counteract the boat's so elegantly. It's no secret what he's doing, and I think that is part of his charm. We can imagine a friend doing the same in a moment of inspiration, no tricks, just comic ballet.
Once the poor immigrants are set up as not quite destitute (despite the dying mother), and we pass time just as much as they do, there is the shot of the Statue of Liberty passing, and even Chaplin, himself an immigrant, stops his action and watches. This is as the U.S. is about to enter WWI, immigrants are flooding in, and patriotism is expected.
The ending is also classic Chaplin--it shows his big heart, his humble intentions, and his winning charm. He gets the girl (with a little physical assistance in the name of comedy, but she's laughing). A terrific capsule of what the man's comedy is about. And the existing transfer to video is clear, with just a few missing frames evident at the start.
One of Charlie Chaplin's many entertaining short features, "The Immigrant"
is interesting for the great variety of slapstick skills that Chaplin shows
off, plus a few touches of the kind of sensitive observations that would
later be such a large part in his best films.
Charlie is one of a group of immigrants on a ship coming to America. The first part of the film takes place at sea, and is mostly simple slapstick centering on the rocky motion of the ship. After a brief scene where the immigrants are admitted to the USA, there is a scene in a restaurant that is one of the funniest in any of Chaplin's short comedies, combining some nicely-timed slapstick with a sympathetic awareness of the kinds of problems faced by someone just trying to get by in a strange and sometimes unfriendly land.
Chaplin fans will certainly want to see this one.
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
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.
THE IMMIGRANT (Mutual Studios, 1917), Written, directed and starring
Charlie Chaplin in his eleventh short subject for Mutual, is another
well-produced comedy with a good mix of proper story and funny sight
gags. Though the film itself could have developed into feature length
form, allowing more plot and character development to Chaplin's title
role and others around him, the end result, is a story divided in two
parts: the first being an introduction of Charlie and other immigrants
before they just come off the boat; the second with Charlie in America
waiting his ship to come in.
PART ONE: The opening introduces an assortment of various immigrants gathered together on a boat crossing the Atlantic Ocean awaiting their arrival to the land of opportunity. One of the immigrants is a nameless passenger whom will be classified as Charlie (Charlie Chaplin). As he tries keeping balance and avoiding seasickness as the ship sways back and forth in seesaw fashion, Charlie, unable to eat a hearty meal, offers his seat in the mess room to a young girl (Edna Purviance) traveling on board with her widowed mother (Kitty Bradbury). On deck playing a game of cards, one of the players (Henry Bergman) sneaks away long enough to lift the entire life savings from Edna's sleeping mother to use for further gambling purposes. However, it's Charlie who wins the cash. After learning of Edna's misfortune, Charlie, as a friendly gesture, offers her his winnings. As the ship passes the Statue of Liberty and docks on Ellis Island, the passengers part company. PART TWO: Charlie, broke and hungry, finds a coin (possibly a silver dollar) resting on the sidewalk and uses it to spend on a square meal at a nearby restaurant. While there, Charlie reacquaints himself with Edna, inviting her to accompany him for dinner. After Charlie witnesses what happens to a diner who's ten cents short on his bill by a giant-sized waiter (Eric Campbell), also his server, Charlie discovers, to his shocking surprise, the coin to pay for he and Edna's meal is gone!
Others featured in the cast of Chaplin stock players include: Albert Austin (Man in restaurant); Frank J. Coleman (Immigrant/ Restaurant Manager), John Rand, James T. Kelly and Loyal Underwood. Take notice Henry Bergman can be spotted playing two different roles, that of a shipboard passenger, another as an accomplished artist.
Once again, Charlie presents himself as both gentleman of nerve and gentleman of heart. Though it's never fully realized of Charlie's country origin, one would assume that since Chaplin is of British birth that his character is one coming to America from his native England. A funny and agreeable silent comedy with some truly classic scenes, the best saved for its second half in the restaurant involving Chaplin and his Goliath-sized waiter (Campbell).
For the documentary, "Unknown Chaplin," it was profiled as to how THE IMMIGRANT was developed. Using existing outtakes showing Henry Bergman playing the waiter, it's been said that Chaplin found something not right with the picture. Once substituting Bergman with the fierce looking Campbell, the restaurant scene developed into one of the funniest sequences in the entire movie. Sources note that when THE IMMIGRANT was completed, Chaplin had as much as 90,000 feet of negative, having Chaplin himself spending four days and nights editing and putting the pieces together to his satisfaction, which indicates what a perfectionist Chaplin was and how dedicated he was to his craft. Even the final result is atypical Chaplin, making this every bit worth his lost coin of admission to see.
Reviewed from 1990s video cassette copy from Blackhawk/Republic Home Video distribution, the twenties-style orchestration and sound effects on the soundtrack from 1930s reissue simply turns this into pleasant viewing experience. Restored prints with clear visuals, new orchestration and silent speed projection (30 minutes from standard 21) from KINO Video, availability on VHS or DVD, is the print occasionally used for Turner Classic Movies broadcasts (TCM premiere: December 6, 1999). Beware of some poor copies of THE IMMIGRANT and some with missing opening inter-title, "A widow and her daughter" pertaining to Edna and mother) with inappropriate/ bad scoring that hurts the significance of such a great comedy classic. Next Chaplin Mutual comedy: THE ADVENTURER. (****)
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