Today marks the anniversary of the release of the Keystone comedy Tango Tangles, co-starring Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle and Ford Sterling, directed by Mack Sennett.
This is another of those Keystone films that improvise comedy in a real-life setting, in a real life situation, this time at a Venice (California) area dance hall. Arbuckle and Sterling play two musicians in the band. Chaplin plays a variation on his famous screen character; at this early stage, it was still in flux. Thus, while he plays a drunken masher whose behavior is an all respects recognizable as “Charlie”, he does so without the little mustache! An interesting and rare combination. He keeps muscling in on Arbuckle’s and Sterling’s girls with predictable results: fisticuffs. Sadly, this was Sterling’s last film with Chaplin; the former left Keystone to star in his own productions a few months later.
Part of the pleasures of this film are documentary in nature: seeing all the real-life people dancing in the background, and even better watching their reactions to the behavior of the Keystone comedians. Sennett can’t control them of course; he’s not paying them. So they just go ahead and laugh at the free performance with little or no awareness that they’re part of the show themselves — still less that people would be watching them a century later.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy film history see my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube