The Cure (1917)
Director: Charles Chaplin
Cast: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell
Synopsis: An alcoholic checks into a health spa and his antics promptly throw the establishment into chaos.
For his 1917 short The Cure, Charlie Chaplin temporarily abandoned the shabby clothes and bowler hat of his familiar little tramp to play an alcoholic who causes mayhem when he visits a sanatorium to dry out. The cane remains, however, and the bow-legged waddle. His character, ‘The Inebriate’ might even be the tramp at a time when his fortunes were marginally better. Either way, his character doesn’t appear to be too serious about giving up the juice given that his large wardrobe trunk is generally stocked with all types of liquor.
The Cure features many familiar routines from Chaplin, but his pace and timing mean they never grow stale. Throughout the movie he repeatedly struggles to negotiate the revolving door which provides entrance to the sanatorium, either unable to exit it so that he revolves endlessly before spinning across the sanatorium floor and up its wide staircase, or becoming trapped when somebody else enters the door from the other side. One of those who finds himself imprisoned on the other side of the doors is the bear-like, bewhiskered figure of Eric Campbell, who plays a fellow patient suffering from gout. For some reason, this necessitates his foot being encased in a plaster cast — so it’s not difficult to imagine which part of Campbell’s anatomy repeatedly gets jammed between the door and the wall.
Campbell isn’t Chaplin’s only nemesis in The Cure, however. There’s also a beefy masseur (Henry Bergman — The Gold Rush, Modern Times) who puts his patients through the kind of rigorous pummelling that has Chaplin backing away in terror. There’s also the world’s oldest bellboy, who helps himself to Chaplin’s stash of hidden booze. Apparently, Chaplin originally wrote The Cure with himself playing a bellboy but radically altered the script, and it’s entirely possible that the vestiges of Chaplin’s original role are to be found in this aged bellboy, who spends a fair amount of screen time as inebriated as Chaplin. The comic drunk was Chaplin’s speciality as a music hall artist in Britain, and there’s no denying that with his floppy body and stumbling gait he nails the movements of a comical drunk in a way that none of his peers could equal.
As you’d expect from a 20-minute short from this era, The Cure is played out at a frantic pace with sight gags and slapstick pratfalls following one another in quick succession. The comedy is physical and often violent and performed with the kind of slick professionalism that makes it look both natural and effortless. The Cure is also refreshingly free of the cloying sentimentality that would too often become a feature of Chaplin’s work when he branched out into features. Edna Purviance once again plays the object of the inebriated Charlie’s affections.
(Reviewed 5th August 2014)