Today is the anniversary of the release date of Charlie Chaplin’s landmark comedy short The Tramp (1915). Though this was Chaplin’s 38th comedy, this was the first one in which his character was specifically identified and represented as a literal transient tramp. It was also one of the first occasions on which Chaplin attempted moments of his patented pathos in the context of a comedy.
In the film, Charlie rescues a girl (Edna Purviance) from a trio of highway robbers and is rewarded with a job on her father’s farm.
He bumbles along, perpetrating the usual farm gags (pitchforks get a lot of play) until he is called upon to be the hero yet again, this time getting shot in the process. Edna tends him as he recuperates and he makes the mistake of falling for her. But of course she has another beau, a normal, suitable fellow whom Charlie can’t possibly compete with, because he is, well, a tramp. He voluntarily hits the road – the first appearance of this iconic exit on film.
I first saw this film when I was in high school — I first saw numerous silent films when I was still in high school. I don’t know that I went out of my way to make this happen. There were opportunities to see them and I took them. (For example, I think The Tramp was screened at our local college cinema). Nowadays there are more such opportunities than ever before, by several orders of magnitude, yet the ignorance of such BASIC film history seems just as widespread, again, by several orders of magnitude. All I can suggest is that those of us who care about such things make education our mission, to the point of obnoxiousness.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy, including great Charlie Chaplin classics like “The Tramp”, please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube