Saturday, May 6, 2017

Stubs - The Adventurer

The Adventurer (1917) Starring Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell, Henry Bergman, Albert Austin, Marta Golden, May White. Directed by Charles Chaplin. Written by Charles Chaplin, Vincent Bryan, Maverick Terrell. Produced by John Jasper. Runtime 31 minutes. U.S.A. Black and White. Silent, Comedy

By the time his contract with Essanay ended, Charlie Chaplin knew his worth. Perhaps the most famous man on the planet and the first International star of Hollywood films, there was merchandise in the stores and Chaplin was celebrated in cartoons, comic strips, and songs. Chaplin wanted a $150,000 signing bonus and negotiated with several studios including Universal, Fox, and Vitagraph, before settling on Mutual, which provided him with a salary of $10,000 a week and carte blanche to make any movie he wanted. At the ripe old age of 26, Chaplin became one of the best-paid people in the world.

Beginning in 1916 he wrote, directed, produced and starred in 12 films, including The Floorwalker, The Fireman, The Vagabond, One A.M., The Count, The Pawnshop, Behind the Screen, The Rink, Easy Street, The Cure, The Immigrant and his final film at Mutual, The Adventurer.

Following the release of The Immigrant, Charlie and his brother Sydney went to San Francisco on vacation. Since the release of The Floorwalker on May 15, 1916, and the release of The Immigrant on June 17, 1917, Chaplin had released 11 films in 13 months. Chaplin took his time making this next one, releasing it four months later on October 22, 1917. It would up until then the longest time period between films in his short career.

The Convict (Charlie Chaplin) burrows out the sand next to
 one of the prison guards (Frank J. Coleman) chasing him.

The film opens with a manhunt for an escaped prisoner. In the mode of the Keystone Kops, the police are inept and lazy. The Convict (Charlie Chaplin) literally burrows out of the ground, ala Bugs Bunny, next to one of the prison guards (Frank J. Coleman), who decides to take a snooze. Soon the guards are chasing after Charlie over, under and through the rough seacoast. He manages to not only get the drop on them but manages to escape out to sea. When the prison guards take chase, their boat gets overturned by waves.

Charlie avoids capture by outmaneuvering the guards.

Not far away, at least according the geography of the film, The Girl (Edna Purviance) and her Suitor (Eric Campbell) are dining at a seaside cafĂ© when they hear the cries of Mrs. Brown (Marta Golden), the girl’s mother, who has fallen into the ocean off the pier. Edna begs Eris to help her, but he refuses, instead, he stands on the end of the pier, yelling for help.

The Girl (Edna Purviance) and her Suitor (Eric Campbell) are dining at a seaside cafe.

Edna can’t wait for help and jumps in the water to save her mom. Turns out, Edna is not much of a swimmer and ends up treading water near her mom.

Meanwhile, Eric’s yells attract the attention of a heavy set seaman who stands next to him and yells along with him. In the process, they break through the railing and both men end up in the water and neither can swim.

Having just swum to shore, Charlie hears the cries for help and he swims out to help. He comes across Edna’s mother first and is about to save her when he hears and sees Edna. He saves the beautiful girl first before going back for her mom. The last one he helps out of the water is Eric, whom he tows to the pier by his beard. The heavyset sailor who went into the water with Eric must have made it out or drowned, as he is never again mentioned.

Back up on the boards of the pier, Charlie is aided by the women’s chauffer (Toraichi Kono) carrying them on a stretcher to their car. Charlie mentions that he heard their screams from his yacht before he dove in to save them.

Charlie saves the Girl's mother, Mrs. Brown (Marta Golden), from the ocean.

When it comes to Eric, Charlie is left alone to pull the stretcher and accidentally dumps the big man back into the water. Charlie dives back in to save him, but this time Eric foils the rescue, kicking Charlie off the ladder at the pier and back into the water.

It is only Edna who insists on finding their savior and sends their driver to look for him. Charlie is found lying unconscious on the beach. The chauffeur then picks him up and carries him back to the car. (Note: the “actor” playing the chauffeur probably had a lot of experience picking up after Chaplin, as he was the actor/director’s own man servant.)

Charlie is carried out of the water by the chauffeur (Toraichi
Kono), who happened to be Chaplin's own man servant.

Charlie wakes up in a strange bed with bars on the headboard and dressed in someone else’s striped pajamas, making him think that he’s back at the prison. That is until a butler enters the room carrying clothes for him.

Charlie wakes up at the Brown's thinking he's back in prison.

Downstairs in the house, a party is underway. Charlie enters and is hailed as a hero. He introduces himself as Commodore Slick. Edna introduces him to her father, Judge Brown (Henry Bergman), who looks suspiciously at their guest.

Judge Brown (Henry Bergman) gives Charlie the once over at a party at the Browns.

Charlie is equally enamored with Edna and the free drinks at the party. He gets into an open rivalry with Eric and it escalates into covert kicking and seltzer squirting. Then Eric finds Charlie’s photo in the paper and the article about his escape from prison. Before Eric can confront Judge Brown with the paper, Charlie manages to draw an elaborate beard on the photo, matching Eric’s own. But Eric isn’t through and calls the authorities to report Charlie.

Charlie draws an elaborate beard on his photo in the paper to make him look like Eric Campbell.

Meanwhile, Charlie enjoys himself as he dances with Edna and eats ice cream out on the veranda.  While he’s eating it, Charlie accidentally drops ice cream down his front and lets us know, through facial expressions, just exactly where the ice cream is. When it finally exits Charlie’s trousers, it falls down on the neck of a well-dressed woman at a table. She shrieks and dances about in reaction to the cold lump now on her.

Charlie accidentally knocks ice cream down a woman's dress.

When the prison guards arrive, another chase sequence starts, as a bookend to the movie. Charlie is chased upstairs and down and through a sliding door. One of the guards manages to catch Charlie just as he’s making his apologies to Edna for his earlier deception. But when the guard loosens his hold on Charlie to shake Edna’s hand, Charlie escapes and the picture ends.

As his follow-up to The Immigrant, The Adventurer is much more in the slapstick vein of Chaplin’s earlier Keystone films. The chase sequences are inspired and frantic, but it doesn’t have the heart that The Immigrant had. While we knew Edna and Charlie would end up together in that film, there is no promise of the same here, and in fact, it is doubtful the two will ever see each other again. Still, the film was popular, and reports say it was his most popular of the Lone Star/Mutual films.

Location filming took place in Malibu and Venice. If you’re familiar with the beach at Malibu, Chaplin comes out of the sand near Castle Rock and Haystack Rock. At the time of the filming, Malibu was privately owned by May Rindge, widow of wealthy ranch owner Frederick Rindge. The road that would eventually become the Pacific Coast Highway only went as far as Topanga Canyon before the public would be forced back inland. Contemporary stories state that during the filming, Chaplin rescued a seven-year-old girl from drowning after she had been swept into the waters from a rock as she watched.

Ms. Rindge fought California’s eminent domain in court for decades, ultimately going bankrupt in the process. In 1923 the US Supreme Court would uphold California’s eminent domain powers, and the Roosevelt Highway (later Pacific Coast Highway) opened in 1929.

The other location was the Abbot Kinney Pier in Venice. Chaplin had been filming in Venice since his second short, Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), was shot there three years earlier. The Abbott Kinney Pier, originally built in 1904 and rebuilt in 1905, at one time or another contained a dance hall, a one and one-half mile scenic railroad, an aquarium, an auditorium, an ostrich farm, a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, aerial rides and various concessionaires. On December 20, 1920, the pier would disappear thanks to a fire that started when a gas heater in the dance hall burst into flames.

While the humor might seem ad-libbed, it really isn’t. Chaplin would play with ideas for long periods of time before he got them right. The outtakes of his Mutual films supplied the evidence of this in the BBC documentary, Unknown Chaplin, which is a fascinating series for anyone interested in the filmmaker’s genius.

Chaplin was also capable of analyzing his own work and wrote a detailed analysis of the ice cream scene in an article “What People Laugh At” published in American Magazine in November 1918. He wrote:

“One of the things most quickly learned in theatrical work is that people as a whole get satisfaction from seeing the rich get the worst of things. The reason for this, of course, lies in the fact that nine-tenths of the people in the world are poor, and secretly resent the wealth of the other tenth.

“If I had dropped the ice cream, for example, on a scrub woman's neck, instead of getting laughs, sympathy would have been aroused for the woman. Also, because a scrub woman has no dignity to lose, that point would not have been funny. Dropping ice cream down a rich woman's neck, however, is, in the minds of the audience, just giving the rich what they deserve.”

Edna Purviance and Eric Campbell each play sort of archetypal characters of the type often seen in Chaplin’s films. She is the pretty girl, the one who catches Chaplin’s romantic eye and Campbell is the heavy that stands as the barrier between them even though he is more bluster than bark.

L to R, Eric Campbell, Marta Golden, Edna Purviance, Charlie Chaplin in The Adventurer.

Chaplin, again, plays a version of his famous Tramp character. Proverbially the outsider; here he is an escaped prisoner mixing it up with the upper crust, or what Chaplin himself referred to as the wealthy ten percent. Who can’t help but laugh when the tables get turned on them and they get knocked down a peg or two along the way by our hero Charlie?

The Adventurer is a throwback of sorts for Chaplin. This is not necessarily a signpost towards his greater works, like City Lights (1931) or Modern Times (1936), which mixed in ethos and pathos with their comedy. But that wasn’t Chaplin’s aim every time out. He was a comedian who knew what his fans wanted. He is certainly funny in this film. It is easy to see why the film was so popular. If you’re a fan of Chaplin’s work or someone who enjoys laughing, then you should definitely see The Adventurer.

Be sure to check out other silent film reviews at our Silent Cinema Review Hub.

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