The Rink (1916)
Director: Charles Chaplin
Cast: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, James T. Kelley
Synopsis: After causing restaurant chaos at work, a bumbling waiter tears up the local roller rink with his skating.
It’s clear that Chaplin’s Little Tramp character was still developing in 1916, when The Rink was made. It could, in fact, be argued that the character he plays here isn’t the tramp at all seeing as how he’s holding down a job as a waiter. Nevertheless, the biggest change that the tramp underwent from his first appearance in Kid Auto Races in Venice in 1914 was in the way he changed from being a mean-spirited jerk to a blameless innocent, the recipients of whose kicks to the backside were wholly deserving of their humiliating assault. He’s about midway through that transition in The Rink — not as much of a jerk as he was in the earliest movies, but still far from the finished article…
As with many of Chaplin’s two-reelers, The Rink is virtually two movies in one, with much of the action taking place in the restaurant in which Chaplin’s character works rather than the titular skating rink. Here, we see him waiting table on Eric Campbell, who would ironically wait table on Chaplin in an altogether less salubrious setting in the following year’s The Immigrant. Chaplin gets up to his usual antics, abusing customers and squaring up to workmates when they object to his slipshod methods. Campbell plays a character named Mr. Stout, and after he’s left the restaurant, his wife (Henry Bergman — The Circus, City Lights — in drag) comes in and begins flirting with another customer (James T. Kelley — The Immigrant, Safety Last). Later, we see Chaplin at the local skating rink during his lunch break, where he runs into Mr Stout flirting with a pretty young girl (Edna Purviance – The Kid, A Woman of Paris). Chaplin’s skating is so impressive that he receives an invitation to a skating party that night which all the aforementioned characters will be attending.
Most of the humour in this one arises from the episodes in the roller skating rink, although the restaurant sequences are worth catching simply for Chaplin’s wonderful comic timing and unique method of shaking a cocktail. On roller skates he gives his audience a superb demonstration of his skill and grace on wheels, gliding past and around the hapless Campbell and Bergman as they wobble shakily around the rink. Chaplin defies gravity as he battles to stay upright on a number of occasions and it’s easy to overlook the strength and energy required to give the impression that you’re on the verge of tumbling over for so long. Structurally, The Rink feels a little awkward, with Chaplin choosing to insert a solitary scene back at the restaurant after his lunchtime visit to the rink and before his return in the evening, but otherwise the movie shows Chaplin getting ever nearer to the height of his comic powers.
(Reviewed 26th August 2014)