Thursday, 19 November 2015

Film Review: His New Job (1915)


Source: Doctor Macro's High Quality Movie Scans
USA; 31 min.; short, comedy, slapstick, silent film
Director: Charles Chaplin
Writing: Charles Chaplin, Louella Parsons
Cast: Charles Chaplin, Arthur W. Bates, Robert Bolder, Frank J. Coleman, Charles Hitchcock, Charles Inslee, Charlotte Mineau, Jess Robbins, Charles J. Stine, Gloria Swanson, Ben Turpin, Leo White


We all probably think that Hollywood is and always has been the US capitol when it comes to film making. However, back at the very beginning of the 20th century, the US movie market was dominated by neither Los Angeles nor Thomas Edison’s film studios in New York. In the 1900s and 1910s, the metropolis for moving images was, indeed, Chicago.

With production companies such as the Selig Polyscope Company or Essanay Studios situated there, the Windy City attracted many film stars, amongst them Gloria Swanson and Charlie Chaplin. The latter did, in fact, direct and star in fourteen silent films for Essanay. But while thirteen of those were shot in and around the company’s remote studio in Niles, California, His New Job was made solely on Chicagoan soil.

The 1915 short certainly is one of the lesser known Chaplin movies. Performing his usual character, the little Tramp, we see him audition for a role in a historical romantic movie, causing – as usual – chaos everywhere he goes. Basically, the film is about the Tramp upsetting the studio boss, the secretary, the movie director, the leading stars and extras as well as the carpenter who’s responsible for building the set design – and all this within the span of 30 minutes.

I won’t lie, like most people I love the Tramp and his clumsy, cheeky ways. While slapstick usually isn’t my kind of humour, Chaplin always manages to tickle laughter out of me. His body language and mimic are a sight to behold, his naiveté and impertinence are very engaging and most often disarmingly charming. So, watching a Chaplin movie is almost never bound to disappoint me.

Now, His New Job features the Tramp’s brazen nature perfectly and makes him shine especially when teamed up with a rivalling man, played by Ben Turpin, who’s trying to win the same movie role the Tramp is auditioning for. The funnily choreographed fights between the two make for some nice entertainment and are, for me, the outstanding quality of the film.

Unfortunately, the story and character development is a bit thin otherwise. While it’s fun to watch the Tramp cause mayhem on a movie set – in the former movie capitol Chicago, no less – Chaplin’s routine tends to feel a little redundant here and there. The kind and heartfelt qualities of the character, which have been fleshed out in later films such as The Tramp (1915) or – one of my favourites – City Lights (1931), are completely neglected here and replaced by repeated kicking and tumbling and kicking and stumbling and the like. With such a short running time, comedic elements that have been funny the first time around grow old pretty quickly once they are shown for the third or fourth time. Unfortunately, beside Chaplin and Turpin, no other characters are bound to leave an impression either – especially not Gloria Swanson who can be seen in a minuscule part as a stenographer.

While His New Job might not be Chaplin’s best film, it definitely allows him to show off his talent for physical comedy. Furthermore, it is one of fourteen films crafted during his Chicago era, in which he progressively worked on the development of his Tramp character, eventually turning him into one of the most beloved movie characters in film history.

Chaplin left Chicago for the Mutual Film Corporation in California after his contract with Essanay expired in December 1915. His career strived while Chicago’s dominance in US movie making declined. Unpredictable weather conditions and the rising popularity of the western genre turned California into a more suitable scene for movie makers. However, the Essanay studio facilities can, over one hundred years later, still be found in 1345 West Argyle Street, Uptown, Chicago. Today, an initiative is trying to restore the buildings for reuse and thus save a vital part of US film history and also Chaplin’s work. After all, His New Job might not be a masterpiece, but it’s a beautiful legacy of a movie era gone by.


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