Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Charlie Chaplin comedy The Rink (1916).
The Rink is a gem from Chaplin’s Mutual period, that magical stretch when he could do no wrong. Structurally and storywise, the film is similar to many films he had done previously, Caught in a Cabaret (1914), perhaps being the ultimate early example. Charlie is a waiter, causing much havoc at his job, and encountering various rich people….whose party he will later crash disguised as nobility. Here the characters include Edna Purviance (always the honey to Charlie’s fly), her father (James T. Kelley), and a wealthy middle aged couple played by Eric Campbell and — hilariously — Henry Bergman, in drag.
In the old days, what we have just described would have been enough for a two reel comedy, but at this stage Chaplin was no longer satisfied with “good enough”, which is why his comedies have survived, and those of so many of his contemporaries are now buried. Because the piece de resistance of this film is set at a roller rink, and it becomes a showcase for Chaplin’s ASTOUNDING talents as a roller skater. As if the guy didn’t have enough OTHER skills (pantomime, acrobatics, dancing, playing the violin), he is a superb, top level trick roller skater. If he had never done anything else in his career, he could easily have just been a roller skating performer in a vaudeville dumb act, and been the top man in his field. How many movies can you put that in, though? Just a couple. There’s this one, and Chaplin later trots the skating out again in Modern Times 20 years later. At any rate, it is a glorious thing to watch, not just funny, but graceful and beautiful. Because this is, well, Charlie Chaplin.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy please see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
To find out more about show business past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.