A Woman (2015)
A Woman (1915)
Director: Charles Chaplin
Cast: Charles Chaplin, Billy Armstrong, Marta Golden
Synopsis: The little tramp disguises himself as a woman to escape the wrath of his girlfriend’s father.
Sooner or later, every silent comic climbed into a dress to win a few laughs, but there’s something decidedly creepy here about the way the camera lingers over an extreme close-up of Charlie Chaplin in drag (and sans moustache) as if inviting our admiration of his beauty. Roscoe Arbuckle hardly ever seemed to be out of a dress in many of his movies, but his incongruous appearance as a female was the point of the comedy: he was a big man who looked ridiculous in drag, and that was where the humour lay. In A Woman, Chaplin doesn’t don women’s clothing so that we can laugh at his ridiculous appearance, but to amuse us over the way his disguise fools two witless lechers not only into believing he is a woman, but into making sexual advances towards him as well. It’s perhaps unsurprising that the Swedish censor banned A Woman for more than fifteen years, but more so that most of the letters of complaint the Chicago Tribune received about the film merely protested at Chaplin’s disrobing and momentarily fondling of a dressmakers’ dummy.
The movie begins in a park in which a young girl (Margie Reiger) catches the eye of a married man (Charles Inslee – Work) relaxing on a bench in the sunshine with his wife (Marta Golden) and daughter (Edna Purviance – The Immigrant, The Kid). When the women doze off, father slopes away for a game of hide and seek with the girl, but his hopes of an amorous encounter are dashed by the presence of the little tramp who eventually throws him into the park’s lake. The tramp then makes the acquaintance of the wife and daughter, who invite him home for dinner. When the father arrives home soaking wet and in a foul mood, the tramp disguises himself as a woman in the hope of avoiding a beating.
Back in Hollywood’s early days, filmmakers would often load a truck with camera, film and cast and pitch up in some location with little or no idea of what they were about to film. They had no storyline, no script – just a few rough ideas which they somehow had to combine into a coherent whole. To be honest, that’s why many early slapstick comedies are so ordinary. A Woman certainly looks as if it was one of these quickies – cheap and without ambition, and born entirely from the pressing need to place something – anything – before audiences whose hunger for the new medium was keener than their critical acumen. There’s very little about it that is funny – and nothing that was new, even back then. A lot of the material is simply people trading blows, both intentional and accidental, and Chaplin uses up a minute of screen time deciding the precise location in the park’s lake to dunk his victim. His trademark cane provides most of the meagre laughs, as it transforms into a spare appendage with which Chaplin effortlessly belittles bullies and ensnares shy girls. Otherwise, the humour is laboured and unfunny.
(Reviewed 20th October 2015)