Professor Bosco (Chaplin) is a poor street performer who dejectedly arrives at a rundown flophouse, a box of circus fleas clasped tightly under one arm. His day has been an unsuccessful one, and we sympathise immediately with this weary, down-on-his-luck old man, as he jadedly hands over payment for a night's accommodation. Slumping down onto a bed, aside similarly homeless and unsuccessful men, Bosco ensures the wellbeing of his beloved fleas, counting each one individually to make certain of their presence. He even examines a flea from the beard of the scratching man beside him to ensure that it is not one of his own performers (before tersely returning it to the beard).
Throughout the night, Bosco's fleas escape on two occasions the first when Bosco accidentally knocks the box off his bed, and the second when a curious stray dog wanders into the flophouse. Having newly acquired Bosco's population of performing fleas, the scratching dog flees into the streets, and a panic-stricken Bosco chases it into the night.
Despite a few amusing moments (including Chaplin's memorable "flea trainer" routine, which was recycled for his 1952 film, 'Limelight') 'The Professor' perhaps works better as a tragedy than a comedy; though, admittedly, this may just be because of my slow, mournful selection of accompanying music (Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major). This tantalising snippet into Professor Bosco's life is poignant and touching; whatever the reasons for Chaplin abandoning the project, I'm just glad that this much remains for us to enjoy.