Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Charlie Chaplin Essanay comedy By the Sea (1915).
One doesn’t often get a chance to say this, but this is one of Chaplin’s lazier efforts. Having just made The Tramp and A Jitney Elopement one might expect his next film to have maintained the same level of care and plotting. But By the Sea is kind of a throwback to his Sennett days — a bunch of comedians fooling around on a beach. Bud Jamison is the heavy, Edna Purviance is the girl, and Snub Pollard, in the midst of his brief tenure at Essanay, is the ice cream vendor.
As opposed to the overall picture, individual bits and routines stand out and are memorable. Charlie performs his famous flea routine (not fully elaborated for public consumption until 1952’s Limelight). Charlie slips on his own banana peel. Charlie and a guy are eating ice cream cones, getting ice cream on each other as they gesticulate. And the final shot, of five people sitting on a bench and tipping backwards, is visually striking, if (literally) forced. On the other hand, you know what? We’re on a beach in 1915, and that’s always the place to be.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy, including Charlie Chaplin classics like “By the Sea” please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube