Charlie Chaplin once famously said, “All I need to make a comedy is a park bench, a cop, and a pretty girl”. In One A.M., released on August 7, 1916, he proved he didn’t even need those things. All he needed to make a hilarious comedy was himself.
One A.M. is one of Chaplin’s most extreme examples of what critic Andre Bazin called “filmed theatre”. It’s essentially a solo vaudeville turn, with the frame as the proscenium and very little cinematic intervention between the performer and his audience. Charlie plays a drunken swell, coming home at the titular hour, trying to negotiate his oddly treacherous apartment. It’s as though traps have been set all around the house. First he has a hard time getting out of his cab. Then he enters his domicile through the window, and has a series of encounters with a goldfish bowl, rugs, stairs, a table, a hatrack, a clock, a Murphy bed, and eventually the bath tub. Only the genius of Chaplin could keep audiences in stitches for two reels with nothing himself and a room full of furniture.
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