27 August 2008

The Idle Class (1921)

d. Charles Chaplin / USA / 31 mins.


The Idle Class is a tale of two fools – one rich, one poor, both played by Charles Chaplin with exacting physical humor. The richer fool is a man with a drinking problem and a neglected wife (Edna Purviance) who has stopped tolerating it. The poorer fool is his standard Tramp, hitching a joyride on a train and ending up at a golf course where he gets into predictably funny trouble. The two fools eventually find themselves crossing paths at the rich wife's costume party.

It's a highly effective short film in terms of its humor, a great example of Chaplin unmistakably firing on all cylinders. Made toward the end of Chaplin's time with First National, per usual Chaplin performs the roles of star, director, writer, producer, editor, and composer. The gags are quite funny, particularly one which I would love to share but would be remiss to spoil. (All I'll say is that it involves some crying and the mixing of a martini.) Drinking is center stage for humor, as are numerous gags involving golf, which I've always found to be the sport most singularly susceptible to jokes and mockery.

The Idle Class circles back to familiar themes for Chaplin: look-a-likes and the disparity between the classes. Many of his films involve characters who pose as someone they are not (The Pilgrim and arguably City Lights) or look so much like another character they are involved in a bit of mistaken identity (Shoulder Arms and The Great Dictator). An equal emphasis is placed upon the utterly foolish ways the rich can behave and the utterly foolish antics that can occur when someone from the lower class is allowed to infiltrate the bourgeoisie (as at least one of his shorts at Mutual Studios shows, too). In either case, the boon goes to the audience, who is able to sit back and let the laughs flow from watching Chaplin perform with the smoothness of a dry martini.

4 comments:

nick plowman 28 August, 2008  

I have never seen this, but I want to.

Farzan 29 August, 2008  

another excellent review, I look forward to more old movies since not that many people hear of them now in today's world.

T.S. 29 August, 2008  

@Nick - I highly recommend any of Chaplin's early work... best of all, it's all public domain in America and readily available on the Internet (although on DVD it's better quality)

@Farzan - Thanks so much, man. My hope is that perhaps a few more people will be tempted to check out Chaplin's work. His well-known stuff is excellent (of course), but his lesser known works are in many respects just as entertaining.

Sam Juliano,  04 September, 2008  

THE IDLE CLASS is an exceptional short and fully worth your summary assessment here. And for those who haven't seen it, you make it most attractive. Get out those Fox DVDs people!

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