Charlie Chaplin in “His Favorite Pastime”

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Today marks the anniversary of the release date of the Keystone comedy His Favorite Pastime, starring Charlie Chaplin and directed by George Nichols.

The title is intended to be ironic — apparently Charlie’s favorite pastime is getting plastered in a saloon. It’s a rewarding film for many reasons. Chaplin was an expert comic drunk; it was made people notice him when he’d been performing in vaudeville with the Karno troupe. Alongside him in this film, Arbuckle looks stiff and self-conscious by comparison. We also get to see Chaplin perform many bits for the first time of the sort that he will pull out of his bag of tricks many times over his career: he has a fight with a pair of swinging doors, he sucks up to a bully, he towels himself off with his clothes still on, he steps into a spittoon. It’s like he is pulling out all the stops here. He is responding to the public reaction to his previous film appearances, and fort the first time really letting ‘er rip.

As a result of that, he is also testing some limits, seeing what he can get away with, and he does cross the line a few times, becoming too obnoxious for us to like any more. He steals a beer from Arbuckle. When a porter holds out his hand for a tip, Charlie drops in a lit match. In the film’s most egregious turn of events, he stalks a pretty girl and follows her into her house! Luckily her husband is there to boot him out.

And lastly there is the blackface** to contend with, worn by two characters in the film, the saloon porter and the lady’s maid. This was still common in films in 1914. D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, released the following year, would pretty much put the final nail into the coffin of that discredited 19th century institution.

For more on comedy film history 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. For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad. 

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