Today marks the anniversary of the release date of Charlie Chaplin’s first film for Essanay Studios, His New Job. Having started out in films at Mack Sennett’s Keystone a year earlier, he’d parted ways with Sennett in December and come over to Essanay for the bigger salary (10 times his previous one).
Things were a little different right from the get-go. Chaplin actually used his first Essanay film to make a sort of statement. Not a profound one, but there does seem to be a little message to his fans in it, and it does happen to be elliptically about what was going on in Chaplin’s life at the time, which is more than any previous film of his had done. Consider this: it’s called His New Job and it’s set at a movie studio, where his character’s new duties will call upon him to go before the camera. Then, as a little wink-wink, nudge-nudge to his fans, and probably to Sennett, he names the movie company in the film “Lodestone Studios.” After this the meta-commentary ceases; the film is a standard lazy slapstick in a movie studio, just as Chaplin had earlier done at Keystone in A Film Johnny, The Masquerader, and the closely related The Property Man. (The movie is also notable for the presence in the cast of Gloria Swanson in one of her first roles. She had originally been cast as the female lead, but got demoted to a bit part when she told Chaplin she didn’t think what they were doing was very funny.)
It seems to me the title of this film (His New Job) has a special added significance at this juncture in Chaplin’s career. Because from here on out, Chaplin’s role in the film-making process was going to be different. No longer part of an ensemble, now he was to be the whole show. And not just the star, but the writer, director, and producer. He was now in a position to do what had been nearly impossible at Keystone: improve his art.
This film is also notable for being one of only two occasions when Chaplin appeared with silent comedy star Ben Turpin, who would depart from Essanay just a few weeks later.
To learn more about comedy film history please check out 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 learn about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.