Friday, August 12, 2011

Between Showers (1914)

This is another one that feels like a throwaway effort, presumably shot very quickly to take advantage of the heavy rainfall that had hit LA, as indicated by the puddles on the road in the film. The premise is utterly ludicrous: Ford Sterling’s umbrella is broken, so he decides to steal one from a cop, who’s too busy making out with his girlfriend to notice. Then, in what feels like it could be a completely different film, Sterling tries to help a pretty girl cross a large puddle of water that has formed in the gutter from a torrential rain, and pretty soon he and Chaplin are fighting each other viciously for her attention. At some point, policeman Chester Conklin returns to get his umbrella back, linking the ongoing fracas between Sterling and Chaplin back to the opening scenes of the film. That’s about all there is to this one, plot-wise.

It’s the little touches by Chaplin that make it worth watching. By this point, he clearly had figured out that if he wanted to stand out from the rest of the Keystone zanies, he had to downplay his comedy with a degree of subtlety. That’s the thing here – Sterling seems to be trying too hard to be funny, and Chaplin appears to walk away effortlessly with the film’s best moments (one example: when a bystander is knocked into a pond and cries out for help, Chaplin leans over and cups his ear with his hand, as if he can’t understand what the man is saying!) Sterling’s wild gesticulations, jumping up and down, and mugging endlessly through each shot reveal a limited bag of tricks. This isn’t to say that Chaplin couldn’t mug just as shamelessly as the rest of them though – one of the delights of his performance here is when he will turn to the camera and giggle, as if he’s just done something terribly clever. He also shows what a scene-stealer he could be by extending many of his pratfalls for full effect by rolling backward or twisting his legs around in the air.

All in all, a minor, throwaway effort with some of the touches that Chaplin would bring in to full effect later in his tenure at Keystone.

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