Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Busy Day (1914)

In the development of many comedians’ screen personae, the trajectory of reaching their mature screen character seems to be a case of “One step forward, two steps backwards.” While some comics (Buster Keaton in particular) seemed to emerge almost fully-formed from the get-go, others took a little longer to arrive at the characters that audiences would forever remember them for. Chaplin falls into the latter category, and A BUSY DAY is an example of this phenomenon at work.

Coming off of the characteristic and well-constructed CAUGHT IN THE RAIN, Chaplin’s next appearance was in this loosely constructed comedy shot at an actual parade, with a largely improvisational feel to it. This was a fairly standard Keystone approach - to choose an actual public event (a racetrack, parade, etc.) and turn the comedians loose to wreak their unique brand of havoc in otherwise "natural" surroundings. Here, Chaplin plays the lead character in drag, but aside from this switching of genders, the film is largely a re-tread of situations he had already explored more creatively in earlier efforts, and even partially recycles the premise of KID AUTO RACES AT VENICE, with Chaplin-in-drag interrupting the filming of a newsreel. The story revolves around Chaplin's jealous rage when he spots husband Mack Swain flirting with another woman (Phyllis Allen), and goes on a rampage, fighting with Swain, the police, and other bystanders before finally getting kicked off the pier and into the water.

A BUSY DAY was directed by Mack Sennett, who also appears in the film as the newsreel director. Sennett’s presence behind the camera may explain the hectic pace and uncharacteristic humor. That said, A BUSY DAY still delivers laughs in the best knockabout tradition of Keystone.

No comments: