Charlie competes with his fellow shop assistant. He is fired by the pawnbroker and rehired. He nearly destroys everything in the shop and himself. He helps capture a burglar. He destroys a c... Read allCharlie competes with his fellow shop assistant. He is fired by the pawnbroker and rehired. He nearly destroys everything in the shop and himself. He helps capture a burglar. He destroys a client's clock while examining it in detail.Charlie competes with his fellow shop assistant. He is fired by the pawnbroker and rehired. He nearly destroys everything in the shop and himself. He helps capture a burglar. He destroys a client's clock while examining it in detail.
The Pawnshop is known as one of Chaplin's greatest "prop" pictures, in which he manages to sustain an entire twenty-five minute short just through messing around with the bric-a-brac and getting in the way of his co-workers. Still, what he is doing is really quite simple. He is merely very inventive at thinking up mismatches between an item and its purpose – for example using a mangle to dry crockery or absent-mindedly cleaning a violin with a soapy cloth. Like all the best comedians, Chaplin's genius lies in his timing and positioning. He never lets any routine run for too long and become boring or repetitive. He places gags where they will have the most impact – such as the spraying of crumbs when listening to the "sad story", which he does towards the end of the sequence to diffuse the over-the-top, hammy build-up. For a piece like the well-known "clock dissection", he is able to play it slowly in just two long shots because the material has plenty of potential, and he can keep the audience wondering just how far it will go.
Watching The Pawnshop, I was struck by how much more editing there now is in Chaplin's pictures. His earlier style was to keep everything in unbroken takes and let the comedy unfold naturally, but now he is throwing in a lot of angle changes and reaction shots (which is in any case consistent with how cinema was developing at this time). However he still preserves the flow of the picture by making sure the various edits complement each other. For example, in one of Charlie's fights with John Rand, we cut over to Henry Bergman gesticulating angrily at the woman with the goldfish bowl – so the pace of movement in the two shots is consistent. In an earlier fight, he throws in a couple of shots of Edna Purviance hearing the brawl from the next room. These are in mid-shot and last only a split second, thus having a snappy feel and not breaking the tempo of the fight. This is proper film-making technique in the service of comedy.
Genius as he was, where would Chaplin have been without his fine supporting cast? The Pawnshop contains some of his regular co-stars at their best, including the debut of the reliable Henry Bergman. Chaplin collected generic stock characters, and Bergman is his archetypal Jolly Fat Man. Look at the way Bergman falls – his feet go one way, his head another, while the centre of his bulk goes straight down. John Rand is great as the pompous and indignant antagonist, and he manages to match Charlie for stance and timing as he suddenly dives back to work whenever the boss walks in. There's also one the best appearances of gangly Albert Austin, whose concerned but naively trusting expression really adds to the clock dissection, making the build-up seem funnier by contrast because his face stays the same regardless of how drastic the things Charlie does to his clock are. The appearances of Eric Campbell and Edna Purviance are slightly shorter than usual, but nonetheless worthy.
Which brings us hurtling towards that all-important statistic – Number of kicks up the arse: 7 (7 against)
- Feb 5, 2010