Sunday, 15 July 2012

A Night in the Show

For Chaplin’s 12th Essanay film he turns to familiar ground by partially recreating a sketch he first performed in Fred Karno’s theatre company. Chaplin takes the part of two characters. The first is Mr. Rowdy, a working class theatre attendee who turns up drunk. The second is Mr. Pest, an upper class theatre attendee who also shows up inebriated. Both characters get in the way of other audience members and impact on most of the on stage action before one ends the show for good.

The film begins very promisingly with some superb ‘business’ from both of Chaplin’s characters. Rowdy walks down the isle of the dress circle and continues to walk off the edge, having to be hauled back up by other audience members while Pest first cuts in the ticket queue before changing seats much to the annoyance of those around him and finally has a fight with the musical conductor. Unfortunately the rest of the film doesn’t quite live up to the opening five or ten minutes and the volume and quality of the jokes tail off slightly before a return to form in the final minutes.

During the weaker middle third there are still some laughs as Chaplin interacts with the on stage performers, much to theirs and the audiences disgust. A drunken Mr. Pest throws pies at singers and gets covered in a snake charmer’s snakes while Mr. Rowdy throws fruit, spills alcohol and eventually douses the entire audience in water after mistaking a fire eaters props for a real fire. It is also during these scenes that you can imagine a younger Chaplin himself on stage in a London Music Hall, performing to an adoring and rowdy Edwardian crowd. Like so many of Chaplin’s films it feels as though it is set in the past (i.e. their past, obviously they’re all in our past).

An unfortunate side note of the film is that one of the people in the audience (regular Chaplin cast member Leo White) is dressed in black face. ‘Blacking up’ is not something that you readily associate with Chaplin films and it’s surprising to see it here especially after the criticism Chaplin’s friend D. W. Griffith received following the blacking up of characters during The Birth of a Nation released just nine months earlier. As far as I know this was the only occurrence of black face in a Chaplin film.

Overall A Night in the Show is one of the better Essanay films but still has its problems. There is plenty to enjoy but also a few aspects that one cannot enjoy. By sticking to something familiar Chaplin gave himself a head start with this film but the remainder, in the end, failed to live up to the opening.      


1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately there were also some incidences of "blacking up" in his earlier Keystone films.