The Rink


1916

Film Details

Also Known As
Chaplin på rullskridskor, Rink, The
Release Date
1916
Production Company
Lone-Star Mutual

Synopsis

Film Details

Also Known As
Chaplin på rullskridskor, Rink, The
Release Date
1916
Production Company
Lone-Star Mutual

Articles

The Chaplin Mutual Comedies on DVD


When Charlie Chaplin arrived in Hollywood in 1914, he was already a star of the stage, but being a star of the screen was more than an unlikely ambition, it was very nearly a contradiction in terms. Most of the performers in movies were not even identified by name. Within three years, Chaplin had changed that. His name was known, indeed around the world. He had become more than just a star, he was the star. Charlie Chaplin remains an icon, instantly recognizable even by people who have never seen any of his movies.

Should you count yourself in that number, now is the time to rectify that deplorable condition - and there is no better excuse to take the plunge than this 4-disc collection of arguably his greatest works. Even if you count yourself a Chaplin fan and already own an earlier release of the Mutual shorts, be advised this is an upgrade of the highest order. Not that the older discs looked bad, mind you, but the new transfers from the best available 35mm elements sparkle with impeccable clarity - a veil has been lifted. Newly composed orchestral scores by Carl Davis accompany each short as well. Furthermore, because the collection is only sold as a set, it is no longer important to the distributor to make sure the heavy hitters are equally spread across individual editions, meaning the shorts are finally restored to their original chronological sequence. Thus, it is on disc 2 that you will find all the biggies: The Rink, Easy Street, The Immigrant...Watching Chaplin progress as a comedian and an artist is part of the fun of the Mutual shorts.

In 1914, Chaplin left the Fred Karon touring company to join Mack Sennett's Keystone Pictures. Legend has it that Sennett was all set to fire Chaplin within a few months of his arrival (why? For being a difficult SOB) when hungry exhibitors telegrammed: more of that little guy with the funny moustache! So, instead of firing him, Sennett let Charlie start directing his own films - a crucial step towards the creative control he so desired.

Unable to wrest any more control from the famously dictatorial Sennett, Chaplin went to work for Essanay in 1915: better pay, more freedom. Fourteen films later, Chaplin left them, too, to join Mutual on terms that would become the stuff of legend: he was contracted to make twelve short comedies, one a month. In return, he would be paid the staggering amount of $10,000 a week, plus a onetime signing bonus of $150,000. To put these numbers into perspective: he'd parted with Keystone when Sennett balked at paying him $1,000 a week.

Such a salary was unprecedented. Mutual's publicity guys gushed, "Next to the war in Europe, Chaplin is the most expensive item in contemporaneous history." It was the first salvo in the star-salary arms race that continues to this day.

To give their prize the best possible working condition, Mutual bought him a studio. It had once been Climax Studios, and when Charlie was done with it, the place would be home to Buster Keaton. Mutual then established a subsidiary company whose sole function was to administer Chaplin's product: the Lone Star Company.

He might have been the Lone Star of the company, but Chaplin did not work alone. He needed a reliable stock company of supporting players whose skills, rhythms, and loyalty was never in doubt. Edna Purviance he brought with him from Essanay; from the ranks of Karno he poached Albert Austin, John Rand, and Eric Campbell. (Big guy Campbell is the star of the fourth disc in the set, given over to a 54 minute documentary on his life and role in Chaplin's career - Campbell only worked for Charlie, you see, because he was hired by Chaplin directly off the vaudeville circuit and after finishing the films in this DVD set he was killed in a car wreck.) Henry Bergman arrived midway into the Mutual series but would stay on in Chaplin's retinue until Modern Times in 1936.

Chaplin also required an equally dependable crew. His films were about performance - especially his own pantomiming. The last thing he needed was to fret about technical issues when his mind should be on the comedy - his films were only "scripted" in the roughest sense. Improvisation and inspiration ruled. What Chaplin wanted was someone to set up a camera that could capture the action without fussy camerawork, and then stay out of his way while he did his stuff. This he got in Rollie Totheroh - who, like Henry Bergman, continued to work for Charlie until 1936 and Modern Times. He also got it in William C. Foster, who worked literally alongside Totheroh, on a second camera (and was replaced later by George Zalibra, a minor-league ballplayer Chaplin met at Essanay). With two cameras, photographing from essentially the same vantage point, Chaplin could get two negatives of every shot. The practice has since resulted in some debate as to which of these two similar but not quite identical negatives is the "true" or "best" one, but it also doubled the odds of Chaplin's movies survival over the years.

In front of these handcranked boxes, Charlie used his skills as a pantomimist to work his magic. Other comedians (Snub Pollard, I'm looking at you) had an anything-for-a-joke mentality, but Chaplin never strayed outside the possible. He would stray outside the likely, sure, but he would never pull an impossible gag. This became no small part of Chaplin's universal appeal. He could play a drunk, a hobo, an itinerant, an immigrant, an ex-con, a genius, an acrobat, a saint, a hero - he earned his Everyman status by virtue of collating traits of every man.

Thus it all came together: at Mutual, Chaplin could enjoy creative freedom, financial reward, the comforts of fame, a loyal team, and the joys of discovering the outer limits of what silent comedy could do. Future endeavors might find Charlie chafing against those limits, pushing the envelope ever outward, but his stint at Mutual was unmarred - nothing less than the glorious sensation of limitless opportunity and unchecked horizons.

It begins with The Floorwalker, memorable chiefly for Chaplin's losing battle with an escalator. This short also features a self-referential gag in which Charlie and another character manage to trade places simply by swapping clothes - Chaplin was keenly aware that his screen persona was built around an image easily copied. Anyone with a fake moustache and some too-tight garments could be a faux-Chaplin - and comedians like Billie Ritchie and Billy West were making a living as off-brand Chaplins sold to less-discriminating audiences: a constant reminder that he could not afford to rest on his laurels. He had to stay one step ahead of such mimics-and to do so had more to do with the man inside the clothes than the clothes themselves.

The second Mutual, The Fireman, is not much different from the kind of thing he had been doing elsewhere, nor especially better than anything done by a rival comedian. But its joke-a-minute structure is worlds apart from what followed, The Vagabond, which found Chaplin in full "serious artist" mode. The Vagabond eshews jokes for "serious" cinematic values-character, story, setting. Edna Purviance plays an abused gypsy girl rescued by a wandering musician (Chaplin). Aside from a funny bit where Charlie sets a table using a shirt, folding its sleeves into passable imitations of napkins, there is scarcely a joke in it. It would take time for Chaplin to reconcile these competing impulses, and bring pathos and laughs together in the same work.

The Vagabond is also notable for introducing the notion of art as salvation. Class politics are ever-present in Chaplin's films. The underclass are destitute and only occasionally noble; the rich are foolish and often drunk. What then can help lift the poor out of the wretchedness of poverty? Here, and in The Immigrant, Charlie's answer is: they will be recognized as artists and suddenly enriched. Don't laugh - remember the axiom: unlikely but never impossible. Charlie Chaplin went from dirt poor beggar to highest paid entertainer in the world solely because somebody recognized him as an artist.

Which brings us to One A.M., a slapstick classic that amply proves why they paid him the big bucks. Aside from an Albert Austin cameo in the first scene, this really is a "lone star" production, in which Charlie plays a rich drunk at war with his own furniture.

The Count finds Chaplin as both rich lout and Little Tramp all at one go (the Tramp pretend to be a count, you see) in what could be seen as a dry run for The Rink. The Pawnshop continues the prop comedy of One A.M. but with a larger cast, resulting in some of Chaplin's most celebrated routines. By this point he'd hit his stride, and almost everything he made would be an unqualified masterpiece.

Behind the Screen is the short that puts the "almost" in that preceeding sentence. As a spoof of his time at Keystone it is amusing, and its brief jokes about homosexuality are somewhat groundbreaking, but as a whole it would be thoroughly overshadowed by what was to come. From December 1916 through June 1917 they came: The Rink, Easy Street, The Cure, The Immigrant. Each one phenomenal-different critics advocate different ones as The Greatest Short Comedy Of All Time. For years, the general consensus had it that Easy Street held that honor, but lately The Rink seems to be overtaking it; personally my money's on The Immigrant. Descriptions of these films would be pointless-words cannot capture the full extent of what Chaplin did with these moving pictures, and serve only to cheapen them into recitations of gags: this is the one where Charlie stows his hat and coat in an oven, here's the one where Charlie pulls a gun, here's the bit where Charlie falls down the stairs. These are quite simply as good as silent comedy would ever be.

The final Mutual short was The Adventurer, in which Charlie plays an escaped convict who passes himself off as a heroic and wealthy man, only to realize he's doing so in the house of the judge who convicted him. It was not the stellar blend of emotion, social conscience, slapstick, and wit that enervated the brilliant run of films immediately preceding it, but was the most popular of the entire Mutual run and a superb encore.

The Adventurer appeared in theaters in October 1917, 18 months out from the start of Chaplin's supposed 12 month contract. So much for a movie a month. Given total creative autonomy, Chaplin found that if he was not happy with any particular scene he could reshoot it, revise it, rethink it endlessly, until he was satisfied. Hours turned into days turned into weeks, deadlines collapsed. As long as it was worth waiting for (and, hoo boy, it was), Mutual had no objections.

Chaplin's policy was to destroy outtakes. Only the finished end product of all these fits and starts was what mattered. However, policies are not always scrupulously carried out, and a treasure trove from these Mutual days survived. The discarded footage revealed the often tortuous process by which ideas were honed to perfection on the anvil of the Chaplin lot. These trims formed the basis for the documentary Unknown Chaplin--but you'll have to look elsewhere for that gem, since it is not included on this collection. Instead, disc 3 presents a much older feature length documentary on Chaplin's career that, for all its merits, largely ignores the Mutual period.

Richard Patterson's The Gentleman Tramp was first shown in 1975, after years of struggle to get it made. Patterson had deep access to Chaplin's films, long unavailable but resurfacing in 1971 - however these were the films made at First National and afterwards, not the earlier Keystone, Essany, or Mutual pictures. And while Patterson could pull clips from Chaplin's (later) films to his heart's content, he did not have much in the way of cooperation from Chaplin or his family. During the ugliest days of the Cold War, Charlie had been hounded for his leftist leanings and aggressively shoved out of American popular culture. In the early 1970s, audiences were rediscovering him - and he would win an honorary Academy Award in 1971-but some suspicion remained. Throughout the Mutual shorts you will see Charlie stop and bow to the audience, a self-conscious pirouette from a man who was always "on." That audience had betrayed him, and he was wary.

Patterson's approach was to retell Chaplin's life story, illustrated with clips from his films as a sort of "fantasy dream sequence," to get across the central thesis: Chaplin was somethin' else, man! Compared to more recent documentaries, like the aforementioned Unknown Chaplin or Chaplin: His Life and Films, Patterson's 80 minute biography may seem a relic of a different age, but that is its strength: we now live in an age where an already fine collection of Chaplin's Mutual shorts can be supplanted by a superior one, so it is important perspective to remember that not so long ago, seeing any of his films at all was a challenge, and the beloved Little Tramp came to the end of his life distrustful of his own public.

Charlie Chaplin was a comedian of the first order. And in his day, there was plenty of competition. In the silent era there were lots of slapstick clowns-and most don't even come close. The true extent of his genius is obscured by our modern focus on the Big 3: Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd. But sift through the countless hours of silent comedy by...Ford Sterling, Mabel Norman, Roscoe Arbuckle, Billy Bevan, Harry Langdon, Ben Turpin, Charlie Chase, Larry Semon, and on and on - some of them were gifted, some had flashes of brilliance, but none of them touched the same heights as Chaplin. To use a word too often misused, he was unique.

There is quibbling to be done over solitary gags-did Roscoe Arbuckle do the bun dance first? - but no one pulled it all together the way he did. He was the Elvis of silent comedy - and the Mutual Collection is his Sun Sessions.

For more information about The Chaplin Mutual Comedies, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Chaplin Mutual Comedies, go to TCM Shopping.

by David Kalat
The Chaplin Mutual Comedies On Dvd

The Chaplin Mutual Comedies on DVD

When Charlie Chaplin arrived in Hollywood in 1914, he was already a star of the stage, but being a star of the screen was more than an unlikely ambition, it was very nearly a contradiction in terms. Most of the performers in movies were not even identified by name. Within three years, Chaplin had changed that. His name was known, indeed around the world. He had become more than just a star, he was the star. Charlie Chaplin remains an icon, instantly recognizable even by people who have never seen any of his movies. Should you count yourself in that number, now is the time to rectify that deplorable condition - and there is no better excuse to take the plunge than this 4-disc collection of arguably his greatest works. Even if you count yourself a Chaplin fan and already own an earlier release of the Mutual shorts, be advised this is an upgrade of the highest order. Not that the older discs looked bad, mind you, but the new transfers from the best available 35mm elements sparkle with impeccable clarity - a veil has been lifted. Newly composed orchestral scores by Carl Davis accompany each short as well. Furthermore, because the collection is only sold as a set, it is no longer important to the distributor to make sure the heavy hitters are equally spread across individual editions, meaning the shorts are finally restored to their original chronological sequence. Thus, it is on disc 2 that you will find all the biggies: The Rink, Easy Street, The Immigrant...Watching Chaplin progress as a comedian and an artist is part of the fun of the Mutual shorts. In 1914, Chaplin left the Fred Karon touring company to join Mack Sennett's Keystone Pictures. Legend has it that Sennett was all set to fire Chaplin within a few months of his arrival (why? For being a difficult SOB) when hungry exhibitors telegrammed: more of that little guy with the funny moustache! So, instead of firing him, Sennett let Charlie start directing his own films - a crucial step towards the creative control he so desired. Unable to wrest any more control from the famously dictatorial Sennett, Chaplin went to work for Essanay in 1915: better pay, more freedom. Fourteen films later, Chaplin left them, too, to join Mutual on terms that would become the stuff of legend: he was contracted to make twelve short comedies, one a month. In return, he would be paid the staggering amount of $10,000 a week, plus a onetime signing bonus of $150,000. To put these numbers into perspective: he'd parted with Keystone when Sennett balked at paying him $1,000 a week. Such a salary was unprecedented. Mutual's publicity guys gushed, "Next to the war in Europe, Chaplin is the most expensive item in contemporaneous history." It was the first salvo in the star-salary arms race that continues to this day. To give their prize the best possible working condition, Mutual bought him a studio. It had once been Climax Studios, and when Charlie was done with it, the place would be home to Buster Keaton. Mutual then established a subsidiary company whose sole function was to administer Chaplin's product: the Lone Star Company. He might have been the Lone Star of the company, but Chaplin did not work alone. He needed a reliable stock company of supporting players whose skills, rhythms, and loyalty was never in doubt. Edna Purviance he brought with him from Essanay; from the ranks of Karno he poached Albert Austin, John Rand, and Eric Campbell. (Big guy Campbell is the star of the fourth disc in the set, given over to a 54 minute documentary on his life and role in Chaplin's career - Campbell only worked for Charlie, you see, because he was hired by Chaplin directly off the vaudeville circuit and after finishing the films in this DVD set he was killed in a car wreck.) Henry Bergman arrived midway into the Mutual series but would stay on in Chaplin's retinue until Modern Times in 1936. Chaplin also required an equally dependable crew. His films were about performance - especially his own pantomiming. The last thing he needed was to fret about technical issues when his mind should be on the comedy - his films were only "scripted" in the roughest sense. Improvisation and inspiration ruled. What Chaplin wanted was someone to set up a camera that could capture the action without fussy camerawork, and then stay out of his way while he did his stuff. This he got in Rollie Totheroh - who, like Henry Bergman, continued to work for Charlie until 1936 and Modern Times. He also got it in William C. Foster, who worked literally alongside Totheroh, on a second camera (and was replaced later by George Zalibra, a minor-league ballplayer Chaplin met at Essanay). With two cameras, photographing from essentially the same vantage point, Chaplin could get two negatives of every shot. The practice has since resulted in some debate as to which of these two similar but not quite identical negatives is the "true" or "best" one, but it also doubled the odds of Chaplin's movies survival over the years. In front of these handcranked boxes, Charlie used his skills as a pantomimist to work his magic. Other comedians (Snub Pollard, I'm looking at you) had an anything-for-a-joke mentality, but Chaplin never strayed outside the possible. He would stray outside the likely, sure, but he would never pull an impossible gag. This became no small part of Chaplin's universal appeal. He could play a drunk, a hobo, an itinerant, an immigrant, an ex-con, a genius, an acrobat, a saint, a hero - he earned his Everyman status by virtue of collating traits of every man. Thus it all came together: at Mutual, Chaplin could enjoy creative freedom, financial reward, the comforts of fame, a loyal team, and the joys of discovering the outer limits of what silent comedy could do. Future endeavors might find Charlie chafing against those limits, pushing the envelope ever outward, but his stint at Mutual was unmarred - nothing less than the glorious sensation of limitless opportunity and unchecked horizons. It begins with The Floorwalker, memorable chiefly for Chaplin's losing battle with an escalator. This short also features a self-referential gag in which Charlie and another character manage to trade places simply by swapping clothes - Chaplin was keenly aware that his screen persona was built around an image easily copied. Anyone with a fake moustache and some too-tight garments could be a faux-Chaplin - and comedians like Billie Ritchie and Billy West were making a living as off-brand Chaplins sold to less-discriminating audiences: a constant reminder that he could not afford to rest on his laurels. He had to stay one step ahead of such mimics-and to do so had more to do with the man inside the clothes than the clothes themselves. The second Mutual, The Fireman, is not much different from the kind of thing he had been doing elsewhere, nor especially better than anything done by a rival comedian. But its joke-a-minute structure is worlds apart from what followed, The Vagabond, which found Chaplin in full "serious artist" mode. The Vagabond eshews jokes for "serious" cinematic values-character, story, setting. Edna Purviance plays an abused gypsy girl rescued by a wandering musician (Chaplin). Aside from a funny bit where Charlie sets a table using a shirt, folding its sleeves into passable imitations of napkins, there is scarcely a joke in it. It would take time for Chaplin to reconcile these competing impulses, and bring pathos and laughs together in the same work. The Vagabond is also notable for introducing the notion of art as salvation. Class politics are ever-present in Chaplin's films. The underclass are destitute and only occasionally noble; the rich are foolish and often drunk. What then can help lift the poor out of the wretchedness of poverty? Here, and in The Immigrant, Charlie's answer is: they will be recognized as artists and suddenly enriched. Don't laugh - remember the axiom: unlikely but never impossible. Charlie Chaplin went from dirt poor beggar to highest paid entertainer in the world solely because somebody recognized him as an artist. Which brings us to One A.M., a slapstick classic that amply proves why they paid him the big bucks. Aside from an Albert Austin cameo in the first scene, this really is a "lone star" production, in which Charlie plays a rich drunk at war with his own furniture. The Count finds Chaplin as both rich lout and Little Tramp all at one go (the Tramp pretend to be a count, you see) in what could be seen as a dry run for The Rink. The Pawnshop continues the prop comedy of One A.M. but with a larger cast, resulting in some of Chaplin's most celebrated routines. By this point he'd hit his stride, and almost everything he made would be an unqualified masterpiece. Behind the Screen is the short that puts the "almost" in that preceeding sentence. As a spoof of his time at Keystone it is amusing, and its brief jokes about homosexuality are somewhat groundbreaking, but as a whole it would be thoroughly overshadowed by what was to come. From December 1916 through June 1917 they came: The Rink, Easy Street, The Cure, The Immigrant. Each one phenomenal-different critics advocate different ones as The Greatest Short Comedy Of All Time. For years, the general consensus had it that Easy Street held that honor, but lately The Rink seems to be overtaking it; personally my money's on The Immigrant. Descriptions of these films would be pointless-words cannot capture the full extent of what Chaplin did with these moving pictures, and serve only to cheapen them into recitations of gags: this is the one where Charlie stows his hat and coat in an oven, here's the one where Charlie pulls a gun, here's the bit where Charlie falls down the stairs. These are quite simply as good as silent comedy would ever be. The final Mutual short was The Adventurer, in which Charlie plays an escaped convict who passes himself off as a heroic and wealthy man, only to realize he's doing so in the house of the judge who convicted him. It was not the stellar blend of emotion, social conscience, slapstick, and wit that enervated the brilliant run of films immediately preceding it, but was the most popular of the entire Mutual run and a superb encore. The Adventurer appeared in theaters in October 1917, 18 months out from the start of Chaplin's supposed 12 month contract. So much for a movie a month. Given total creative autonomy, Chaplin found that if he was not happy with any particular scene he could reshoot it, revise it, rethink it endlessly, until he was satisfied. Hours turned into days turned into weeks, deadlines collapsed. As long as it was worth waiting for (and, hoo boy, it was), Mutual had no objections. Chaplin's policy was to destroy outtakes. Only the finished end product of all these fits and starts was what mattered. However, policies are not always scrupulously carried out, and a treasure trove from these Mutual days survived. The discarded footage revealed the often tortuous process by which ideas were honed to perfection on the anvil of the Chaplin lot. These trims formed the basis for the documentary Unknown Chaplin--but you'll have to look elsewhere for that gem, since it is not included on this collection. Instead, disc 3 presents a much older feature length documentary on Chaplin's career that, for all its merits, largely ignores the Mutual period. Richard Patterson's The Gentleman Tramp was first shown in 1975, after years of struggle to get it made. Patterson had deep access to Chaplin's films, long unavailable but resurfacing in 1971 - however these were the films made at First National and afterwards, not the earlier Keystone, Essany, or Mutual pictures. And while Patterson could pull clips from Chaplin's (later) films to his heart's content, he did not have much in the way of cooperation from Chaplin or his family. During the ugliest days of the Cold War, Charlie had been hounded for his leftist leanings and aggressively shoved out of American popular culture. In the early 1970s, audiences were rediscovering him - and he would win an honorary Academy Award in 1971-but some suspicion remained. Throughout the Mutual shorts you will see Charlie stop and bow to the audience, a self-conscious pirouette from a man who was always "on." That audience had betrayed him, and he was wary. Patterson's approach was to retell Chaplin's life story, illustrated with clips from his films as a sort of "fantasy dream sequence," to get across the central thesis: Chaplin was somethin' else, man! Compared to more recent documentaries, like the aforementioned Unknown Chaplin or Chaplin: His Life and Films, Patterson's 80 minute biography may seem a relic of a different age, but that is its strength: we now live in an age where an already fine collection of Chaplin's Mutual shorts can be supplanted by a superior one, so it is important perspective to remember that not so long ago, seeing any of his films at all was a challenge, and the beloved Little Tramp came to the end of his life distrustful of his own public. Charlie Chaplin was a comedian of the first order. And in his day, there was plenty of competition. In the silent era there were lots of slapstick clowns-and most don't even come close. The true extent of his genius is obscured by our modern focus on the Big 3: Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd. But sift through the countless hours of silent comedy by...Ford Sterling, Mabel Norman, Roscoe Arbuckle, Billy Bevan, Harry Langdon, Ben Turpin, Charlie Chase, Larry Semon, and on and on - some of them were gifted, some had flashes of brilliance, but none of them touched the same heights as Chaplin. To use a word too often misused, he was unique. There is quibbling to be done over solitary gags-did Roscoe Arbuckle do the bun dance first? - but no one pulled it all together the way he did. He was the Elvis of silent comedy - and the Mutual Collection is his Sun Sessions. For more information about The Chaplin Mutual Comedies, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Chaplin Mutual Comedies, go to TCM Shopping. by David Kalat

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