The action starts from the very first frame, when Charlie makes his appearance (from underneath the sand on a beach) as an escaped criminal, with an entire police force hot on his trail. The chase is one of Chaplin’s best — my favorite part is his brilliant staging at a fork in the road, with one path leading up a steep hill, the other, flat terrain — a masterpiece of comedy choreography.
Eventually he eludes his pursuers by jumping in the water and swimming for it. Meanwhile, nearby on a pier, Edna Purviance and her suitor (Eric Campbell) are relaxing at a table. Suddenly, Edna’s mother (Marta Golden), who is swimming, yells for help. The suitor (who has been vain about his muscles) is too cowardly to save her, so Edna jumps in but soon she too needs rescuing. Then the suitor and another fat man lean over the rail and they too fall in. Chaplin swims over and ends up rescuing them all.
Later, with the others in an ambulance, Charlie goes to put the suitor on a stretcher and dumps him in the water again. He goes to rescue him once more but by this time is exhausted and he passes out and has to be rescued himself. He wakes up at Edna’s house. The fact that he had earlier referred to his “yacht” may be the major reason the family trusts him. He and the suitor antagonize each other throughout the picture. Then the suitor sees Charlie’s picture in a newspaper as an escaped convict. He calls the cops, and then a chase even better than the one that began the picture ensues, back and forth, employing stairs, an outdoor balcony, a sliding door, furniture etc. Finally a cop catches him. Charlie introduces the cop to Edna and when the officer releases him to shake hands with her, he bolts again! We’re right where we started!
To learn more about comedy film history, including great Charlie Chaplin comedies like The Adventurer, please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc.