The plot is a satire derived from Hugh Antoine D'Arcy's poem of the same title. The painter courts Madeleine but loses to the wealthy client who sits for his portrait. The despairing artist...
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The plot is a satire derived from Hugh Antoine D'Arcy's poem of the same title. The painter courts Madeleine but loses to the wealthy client who sits for his portrait. The despairing artist draws the girl's portrait on the barroom floor and gets tossed out. Years later he sees her, her husband and their horde of children. Unrecognized by her, Charlie shakes off his troubles and walks off into the future.Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
27 seconds of this were cut from the UK release in 1914. See more »
'Twas a Balmy Summer's Evening, and a Goodly Crowd Was There
My experience with this Chaplin Keystone comedy illustrates an important point about silent movies: i.e., presentation is everything. In deciding how you feel about a particular film, it can make a huge difference whether or not you're able to see a good print, projected at optimal speed, accompanied by appropriate music, in the company of a supportive audience. (The last of these criteria may be the most crucial of all, although it also may be the most difficult to arrange.) If one or more of these factors is lacking, it can have a decisive impact on how you regard the film. Even a silk purse can turn into a sow's ear if circumstances weigh against it.
I first saw The Face on the Barroom Floor at a public screening in the mid-1970s, at a local library that hosted weekly film society meetings. Comedy shorts were sometimes shown as curtain raisers to feature films, and, if memory serves, this one was selected as a lead-in to Von Sternberg's The Blue Angel. (Go figure!) I was happy with the selection, as I was already a voracious Chaplin fan and hadn't seen this short before. Unfortunately, however, the folks who organized the screening were stuck with a print that made 'Face' look like a total dud. Like so many Chaplin Keystones, it had been re-edited at some point after its initial release, and ineptly re-edited at that. The scenes were out of sequence, thus the story made no sense. Worse, a poor quality soundtrack had been grafted onto the print, featuring raucous music, cartoon-y sound effects, and occasional voices. (At one point in the action, when Charlie trips over a bear rug, they had him exclaim "Ouch," which for fans is something akin to sacrilege.) I suppose we chuckled here and there, but in this badly mutilated form the film was bewildering and unsatisfying, and when it was over I thought it must have been the worst thing Chaplin ever made.
Fast forward several decades, to the release of the 'Chaplin at Keystone' DVD box set. In all the intervening years I'd never encountered this particular short again, so I tuned in with a mixture of apprehension and curiosity. To my surprise, it turned out to be quite enjoyable, in fact the restored version of The Face on the Barroom Floor has become one of my favorite Chaplin Keystones.
Unlike so many Sennett comedies that are loosely improvised, this one has a solid structure. It was designed as a parody of a popular 19th century narrative poem, which tells the tale of an artist whose beloved model runs off with another man. The artist, now a drunken vagabond, tells this sad story in flashback while bumming drinks off a crowd of men in a saloon, and ultimately draws her face on the floor with a piece of chalk. Chaplin followed the basic plot line of the poem, but wickedly pokes fun at it with melodramatic overplaying and characteristic gags (as when he sits on his paints, etc.). It all winds up with a barroom mêlée, albeit a fairly restrained one by Keystone standards. One of the funniest gags stems from deliberate miscasting: the "fair-haired boy" who steals the heart of Charlie's model is portrayed by balding, pudgy Fritz Schade, who to our eyes looks more like Zero Mostel than a fair-haired boy with "dreamy eyes," and our first sight of him is a laugh-out-loud moment. Another highlight is the climactic scene in a park, when Charlie finds out what has happened to his ex-model and her beau, in a shockingly (and impossibly) brief span of time—another big laugh. The restored version is also enhanced by a nicely modulated score by Eric Beheim, which echoes Chaplin's satirical overplaying with parodies of tear-jerking musical themes.
In sum, my experience with this short taught me that you can't really judge a silent movie until you've seen it properly presented. Sadly, that isn't always possible, but in the case of The Face on the Barroom Floor I have discovered that, for me anyway, Chaplin's "worst" Keystone comedy is actually a lot more fun than I ever realized.
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