Making a Living (1914)
Making a Living (1914)
Director: Henry Lehrman
Cast: Charles Chaplin, Emma Bell Clifton, Chester Conklin
Synopsis: An impoverished con man crosses paths with a reporter.
The Little Tramp character with whom Charlie Chaplin would come to be so closely associated was still nothing more than an assortment of mismatched costume props hanging in the Keystone wardrobe department when he filmed his screen debut, Making a Living, in February 1914. It’s fascinating to catch sight of the unformed comic in a role so dissimilar to that which made him famous, and to see, lurking within this otherwise routine, and typically frenetic, early comedy glimpses of the comic genius that he would be.
Chaplin is almost unrecognisable in the character of a con-man named Edgar English, although the fact that Edgar is clearly down on his luck suggests that even then Chaplin sensed there was humour – if not yet pathos – in the plight of the disenfranchised. He wears a top hat and long coat and sports a monocle, as if he’s a toff who has fallen on hard times, and is reduced to accosting strangers on the street. One unfortunate victim is a reporter (uncredited) who finds himself running into Edgar time after time, much to his distress. First, he discovers that not only has Edgar been wooing his girlfriend (Minta Durfee – Mickey) but he has stolen her away from him. After coming to blows, the two men part, only to be thrown together again when Edgar applies for a job at the newspaper office in which the reporter works. Finally, the men end up fighting in the street when Edgar steals photographs of a car wreck taken by the reporter and pass them off as his own work.
Although Chaplin’s tramp was a somewhat mean-spirited character in his earliest outings, he was never quite as dastardly as Edgar English who, with his droopy moustache, slight frame and protruding chin, is the epitome of a Victorian cartoon villain. Chaplin was clearly still feeling his way, both in finding a screen persona and in the art of winning laughs on the screen, when he made Making a Living. But even as a debutante, he was superior to both his fellow actors and the material he was given to work with, and there are occasional touches of classic Chaplin to be found amongst the frantic mugging and violent slapstick. Compared to the quality of Keystone’s output at this time, Making a Living at least stands its ground.
(Reviewed 18th April 2015)