Today we show some love for the Charlie Chaplin short A Days’s Pleasure (1919).
Critics have always panned this uncharacteristic little film; I find it interesting for that reason. It is the rare sight of Chaplin at a relatively late date imitating competitors and attempting something far less artistically ambitious than his usual fare by that time.
Desperate to finish out his contract with First National so that he could begin making films with his own company, United Artists, Chaplin dashed off A Day’s Pleasure. The movie is easily his least characteristic since the Keystone days. Still smarting from critical and audience indifference to his previous picture Sunnyside, in A Day’s Pleasure he seems to chuck it in and say “give the people what they want” and that amounts to a formula much more redolent of the films of Harold Lloyd, whose popularity was exploding at that time. Thus, we see the Little Fellow in circumstances in which he seems out of place, a world something more like our own. The plot (if you can call it that) is among his simplest. Charlie is a dad, taking his wife and kiddies (one of whom is a pre-Kid Jackie Coogan) on a weekend outing. The middle of the picture is familiar Chaplin fodder: travails on an excursion boat, with echoes of Shanghaied and The Immigrant. But the remaining two thirds are all about car trouble, territory that by now Lloyd had already staked out as his own. More striking than this though is Chaplin’s attempt to harmonize the Little Fellow with the prevailing social order. No longer the outsider, in this picture the Little Fellow has a knockout for a wife (Edna Purviance), has managed to hang on to her for several years (the oldest child is perhaps 8 or 9), and is comfortable enough financially to take them all on a little day trip. A far cry from a Tramp.
I think this rare glimpse of Chaplin just “going through the motions” to be highly valuable. It is a reminder that at bottom he was still a comedian working within a commercial industry. We need such reminders for contrast, in order to truly appreciate the heights he was able to achieve within those parameters. Also, there’s plenty of laughs in the film, which after all is the bottom line objective.
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