Monday, 30 July 2012

Triple Trouble

Charlie Chaplin’s final Essanay film is probably his most controversial. Unlike the controversy his films created in the 1930s and 40s, the controversy surrounding Triple Trouble comes from its very existence. The two reel film was created in 1918; two years after Chaplin left Essanay and was compiled by Chaplin regular Leo White. White directed some sequences and took other scenes from Police as well as the ending from Work and some unused footage from the never completed Life. The result is a hodgepodge of half completed jokes, tired scenes and uneven continuity.

The plot (I think) involves Chaplin working in the house of a scientist/Count (Leo White) as a janitor. Having got into his trademark trouble and briefly bumping into a Maid (Edna Purviance) whose role is not expanded, the janitor finds a bed for the night at a flophouse. While there a pickpocket enters and starts stealing from the residents. The janitor attempts to stop him and then for some reason runs away from the police. Later the janitor meets an old friend who convinces the cleaner to help him to steal from his employers.

As you can probably gather from that brief plot description the film makes no sense. One minute Chaplin will be in a scene then wont be seen again for several minutes, turning up for a few seconds in a situation obviously taken from another film. In one scene the thief is directed to the house he needs to steal from but then later on needs the janitor to show him where it is. Chaplin also runs away from the police at one stage despite having done nothing wrong. The whole thing is a mess.

What annoyed me most is that the film takes some of the best parts of other films and drops them in. My favourite scene in Police when Chaplin steals from a thief while the thief is searching him for money is used here. All that was done to hide the fact is a reversal of the frame so that Chaplin stands to the right here rather that to the left as is Police. A scene at the end of the film is lifted from Chaplin’s earlier Essanay Work. In that film it made perfect sense and was incredibly funny. Here Chaplin wasn’t even in the room in the moments before yet ends up under a load of rubble.

The story and jokes aren’t as sophisticated as in the likes of Police, The BThe Bankank or A Night in the Show. There are very few actual original gags at all although calling the family of the house Nutt made me laugh as that meant that the janitor worked in the Nutt house. There is very little humour in the Nutt house though and the long, drawn out scene in the flophouse was dull and uninspiring. The set was easily recognisable from Police but the question of whether the footage was taken from Police outtakes or from Life remains unresolved. One of the few saving graces is Wesley Ruggles’ cook’s facial hair. Chaplin’s character actors were renowned for OTT fake facial hair but Ruggles takes it to new heights here with massively over the top beard and moustache as well as the largest and most pointy fake eyebrows I’ve ever seen. It’s incredible.

One nugget of interest comes in the overt use of anti German language. The film was released when the USA had finally entered the First World War and it appears that this film was set in Germany. One intertitle mentions teaching the Hun a new goose step and there is mockery of Germanic names.

In the end it feels wrong to call Triple Trouble a Charlie Chaplin film, although he did include it in the filmography for his own autobiography. (Which if you haven’t read, is an excellent book and well worth picking up). The film created even more animosity between Chaplin and the company and can comfortably be considered the worst of their partnership.   


No comments:

Post a Comment