Saturday, February 16, 2019

Stubs - Making a Living

Making a Living (1914) Starring: Charles Chaplin, Henry Lehrman, Emma Bell Clifton, Chester Conklin. Directed by Henry Lehrman. Written by Henry Lehrman. Produced by Mack Sennett. Run Time: 13 minutes. U.S.A. Black and White, Silent, Short, Comedy

Fred Mace might not be a name that you’ve ever heard of before but if it wasn’t for his desire to leave Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios, Charles Chaplin may not have ever gotten into films. He was on his second U.S. tour with Fred Karno’s comedy troupe when he was approached by a representative of Keystone who saw his performance and thought Chaplin could be a good replacement for Mace, who would appear in more than 150 films from 1909 and 1916 and was at the time the big star at the studio and wanted to leave. Though Roscoe Arbuckle would take over the roles Mace would have played, Chaplin was signed to a $150 a week contract in September 1913. He arrived in Los Angeles in December and began work for Keystone on January 5, 1914.

Almost immediately he began working on his first film that was written and directed by Henry Lehrman, who would also appear in the film. Chaplin was used to rehearsing parts was also not used to films which are made out of sequence. There are stories that he and his director butted heads early on.

Edgar English (Chaplin) swindles a reporter (Lehrman) out of money and a ring.

The short film opens with Edgar English (Chaplin), described as a swindler is in conversation with a man on the street who later turns out to be a newspaper reporter (Lehrman) whom he is apparently trying to convince him to give him money, as Edgar is down on his luck. Somehow during their talk, Edgar manages to steal a ring from the man.

The reporter is not happy to find that his sweetheart (Minta Durfee) is now engaged to
 Edgar. The girl's mother (Alice Davenport) looks on.

Edgar goes almost immediately to a mother (Alice Davenport) and daughter (Minta Durfee) who are standing out in front of their mansion. Edgar comes on to the daughter and they become engaged when he gives her the ring he’d taken from the reporter.

The butler moves to break up the ensuing fight.

The reporter, who had stopped to buy the daughter flowers, soon arrives to not only find out that his girl is engaged, not only with the ring he intended to give her but the bum on the street who asked him for money. The two get into a fight, which is eventually broken up by the butler, who gives the reporter the old heave-ho.

Edgar sees a help wanted sign outside what was the old
LA Times Bldg. The Bum is played by Chester Conklin.

Later, Edgar is looking for work and sees a sign looking for a writer on the local newspaper. Before he goes in to apply, he has some interplay with a Bum (Chester Conklin) who is hanging around outside. When he goes in to apply to the manager, he finds the Reporter works there. The reporter gets the Editor of the paper (Charles Inslee) to throw Edgar out.

The Editor of the paper throws Edgar out.

Later that day, the Reporter is out on the street when he sees a car lose control and go over the edge crashing down a hill, pining the driver under the car. The reporter is the first on the scene and takes photos with his camera and interviews the victim. He is about to leave the scene when others arrive and try to right the car and free the driver. The reporter is encouraged to help and he puts down his notes and camera.

The reporter interviews and photographs the victim of a traffic accident.

Edgar, who happens to be walking by, sees the accident and goes to investigate. While there he sees the reporter's notes and camera, which he scoops up and runs away. When Edgar sees a Keystone Kop policeman (Chester Conklin), he runs up the stairs to hide in a house where the woman living there (Emma Clifton) tries to throw him out. However, the reporter takes chase and follows him into the house. Edgar manages to get away but the reporter ends up in the bed with the woman and is discovered there by her husband (Billy Gilbert).

Husband (Billy Gilbert) finds his wife (Emma Clifton) in bed with the reporter.

Edgar takes the story and camera back to the newspaper. An extra is issued based on his story and the paper is on the street almost before the reporter realizes his things are missing.

Edgar's story rates an Extra edition of the paper.

He chases Edgar down and the two get into a fight on the street, ending up in the cow-catcher of a passing trolley car.

Edgar and the reporter take their fight out into the streets.

Chaplin was apparently disappointed in the finished film, feeling that his best performances were left on the cutting room floor. Supposedly, Lehrman would admit to having done just that out of spite for Chaplin.

The film was released on February 2, 1914 and despite his own misgivings, he received very positive reviews from Moving Picture World, an influential early trade journal for the American film industry, which wrote, "The clever player who takes the role of the nervy and very nifty sharper in this picture is a comedian of the first water, who acts like one of Nature's own naturals. It is so full of action that it is indescribable, but so much of it is fresh and unexpected fun that a laugh will be going on all the time almost. It is foolish-funny stuff that will make even the sober-minded laugh, but people out for an evening's good time will howl."

Henry Lehrman may not be a name that gets a lot of attention today, but back in the beginnings of silent films, he was very prominent, working with not only Mack Sennett but also D.W. Griffith. The next year, he would leave Sennett to start his own company, the L-KO Kompany, making two-reelers for Universal. He had a bad reputation for putting his actors in precarious and dangerous situations, earning the name "Mr. Suicide." One more connection to silent films is that Lehrman was engaged to Virginia Rappe, the actress whose death in 1921 led to the downfall of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's career.

The film also features Chester Conklin, a film comedian, and one-time Keystone Kop. He would go on to co-star with Mabel Normand in a series of films, including  Mabel's Strange Predicament (1914), Mabel's New Job (1914), Mabel's Busy Day (1914) and Mabel at the Wheel (1914). He was also teamed with Mack Swain and became known for his Walrus-like mustache. In 1920, he left Sennett and went to work at Fox Film Corporation. Conklin would have a significant role in Erich von Stroheim's acclaimed Greed (1924). However, his part was cut from the finished film and lost. Conklin would also appear in Chaplin's films Modern Times (1936) and The Great Dictator (1940).

Minta Durfee was married to Arbuckle at the time the film was made with whom she would appear in several films. A close friend of Mabel Normand, Durfee would be best remembered for her role in Normand's Mickey (1918).

Just a quick note, the Billy Gilbert in this film is not the same Billy Gilbert from The Music Box (1932) or His Girl Friday (1940). Even though they were acting at about the same time, the two only share a name.

But the star of the film is Charlie Chaplin. This is certainly not the best work Chaplin would ever do but it does show certain glimpses of what was to come. Chaplin would be a quick study and it wouldn’t be long before he was one of the most famous people in the young fledging film industry, becoming a worldwide phenomenon.

Making a Living is one of the few films when Chaplin is not seen as his trademark Little Tramp. That character would appear in his next film, also directed by Lehrman, Kid Auto Races at Venice. Here he is dressed in a long grey coat and a large mustache with a more villainous look.

As far as should you watch this short, the answer would be a qualified “yes” though I would not say it would be for everyone. If you’re a fan of Chaplin’s already, you owe it to yourself to see all of his films that you can. If you’re not a fan then there are other films I would suggest, like City Lights (1931), which may be my favorite of his.

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