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Monthly Archives: August 2018

Movie Crash Course: The Story Of A Cheat

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Earlier I said that I had developed a fondness for Rene Clair. But I’ve realized that maybe I’m just charmed by 1930s French film in general; breezy plots, quirky gimmicks, a lighthearted tone, and an overall…er, je ne sais quoi. 

The story of The Story Of A Cheat is a lighthearted autobiography, related by our-middle-aged hero as he sits in a café “writing his memoirs”.  We never learn his name – he simply calls himself “A Cheat”, based on a lifelong belief that in his case, dishonesty actually paid off better than morality. He relates that as a child, he stole some pocket change out of the till at his family’s grocery store and was sent to bed without supper; however, the mushrooms his family served for dinner that night were poisonous, and everyone else in the family was killed.  So, he claims, theft spared him his life.

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Our hero bounces back from this early misfortune, cavorting through a series of hotel service jobs as a bellhop or elevator operator – all the while, he claims, spying on guests, thwarting an assassination and losing his virginity to a wealthy Countess.  He is drafted into the French Army during the First World War – and almost immediately wounded and sent to a hospital, and then forgotten about due to a bureaucratic error, so he spends the war reading a lot.  He tries his hand at being a croupier, but gets lured into robbing hotel safes and cheating at cards instead.  When he tries to go legit again, he takes up professional gambling instead.

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A lot of that tale sounds dour and Dickensian; but somehow it ends up feeling more like a titillating romp.  The bellhop sequences even reminded me of The Grand Budapest Hotel, all mannered dialogue and eager young men tending to fussy society matrons.  Everything is also seen through the rose-hued glass of memory; our hero’s fortunes may have gone up and down, he may have won and lost millions, but – our present-day hero is a distinguished-looking fellow, with enough money to dress in a suit and enjoy lingering over a glass of wine at a café while he pens his story.  (…He has also found a more stable job at this point – which he reveals at the very end, in a shaggy-dog-story twist I won’t share here.) Our hero is not lamenting his misfortune – he’s reveling in the fact that he got away with a life of dishonesty more or less intact.

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The “memoir” structure turns the film into an interesting hybrid of “silent” and “talkie”.  The only scenes with any dialogue are in the present, where occasionally we see our hero telling a portion of his story to the waiter or another patron of the café (think like how we saw Forrest Gump on the park bench once in a while).  Everything else is a narrated flashback, with other actors silently going about their business as our narrator tells his tale.  This allows for some clever visual gags as well; my favorite is probably when the hero starts to discuss the Countess.  But he never flat-out says what happens during their first meeting – instead, he coyly says that “I went to her room, and then for the first time…..” and trails off, letting the film cut in an image of a pair of lovebirds billing and cooing for a few seconds before he resumes the story.

Even more impressive – for me anyway – is that the film was produced, written, and directed by our hero, played by a jack-of-all-trades named Sacha Guitry (the film was based on his only novel, to boot). I find it a hard to trust a film where the lead is also the director and producer and sole screenwriter – with only one person responsible for all the creative decisions, it’s a little too easy for the film to collapse into being a big ego-gratification thing.  But perhaps Guitry keeping himself off camera (at least physically) for most of the film somehow keeps things in check.

Even the one quirky ego indulgence he has was charming – instead of credits, Guitry has a brief scene set on a film soundstage, during which he introduces each of the actors as they “arrive for filming for the day” and are going about their business (“and at the makeup table is Marguerite Moreno, who will be playing a Countess for us….and where is Serge?  Ah, there’s Serge Grave, taking a nap; he will be our hero as a young boy.  You can go back to sleep, Serge….”) It’s borderline twee and felt a shade too long, but made enough of an impression at the time that Orson Welles borrowed the concept of narration-as-credits for Magnificent Ambersons. Somehow, though, it feels better when delivered with a whimsical Gallic touch.

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A P.S. On My Last Review

This didn’t seem like it fit into my review of The Magnificent Ambersons, as it has more to do with the actual watching of it than anything else; but it deserves recording anyway, if only to satisfy a small grudge.

An Open Letter To The Man Three Rows In Front of Me at Film Forum, for the Magnificent Ambersons Screening at 8:35 on Friday

Dear Sir:

For the love of all that is pristine and good in this world, learn to chew your popcorn with your mouth closed.

Sincerely,

The Fellow Audience Members around you who all desperately wished you’d gotten a smaller bucket of popcorn

P.S. – Also, the pants you wore give you a pronounced Plumber’s Crack and I really really wish I didn’t know that.

Movie Crash Course: The Magnificent Ambersons

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While my intent is to watch everything in chronological order, every once in a while I get a chance to see something in a theater, if I’m willing to jump ahead a few years on the schedule.  Thus – 1942’s Magnificent Ambersons, Orson Welles’ adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s novel about a Midwest family’s downfallDespite its Indiana setting, it felt strangely like a Southern Gothic story (I joked to Alex when I got home – “who wrote that screenplay, Orson Welles or Tennessee Williams?”).

Things kick off in the dawn of the 20th Century, when Eugene Morgan – a poor aspiring inventor, working on a new kind of car – is wooing the lovely Isabel Amberson, daughter of the richest family in town. She actually likes him too, but then snubs him after a grand romantic gesture he’s planned goes wrong (he’s trying to serenade her under her window and trips and falls on his cello).  She marries the much more sensible Wilbur Minafer instead, pouring all her affection into her only son George – thoroughly spoiling him in the process.  Eugene leaves town to save face, marrying someone else and pursuing his inventions.

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Twenty years later, Eugene comes back.  He’s now wealthy (his car design is paying off), a father to a charming daughter, and a widower.  The pair turn up as guests to a ball at the Amberson manse, which still is home to Isabel, Wilbur and George, along with the Amberson patriarch and Wilbur’s spinster sister Fanny.  Eugene and Isabel realize they still have the same chemistry, but George – who is ignorant of his mother’s prior history with Eugene – isn’t impressed by him.  Eugene’s daughter Lucy, however, is another matter, and he sets out to woo her.  But the closer he gets to Lucy, the more he dislikes Eugene – especially after Wilbur dies, and Eugene and Isabel start to contemplate renewing their own relationship.  To further complicate things, Aunt Fanny has been harboring a crush on Eugene since she was a girl, and sees in George a chance to finally turn Eugene’s affections her way instead.

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The original novel was part of a trilogy about the effects of industrial and scientific progress on small-town America. Welles’ film does touch on that somewhat – George snubs the notion of “a horseless carriage” repeatedly in the film, and there’s an extended sequence where George has taken Lucy out for a carriage ride, but are thrown by the horse and get rescued by Eugene, out for his own ride with Isabel and Fanny.  But the complex web of relationships takes much more of the focus, and has a much stronger impact on the Ambersons’ dynastic collapse.  Nearly everyone seems to be wrestling with a pair of conflicting forces – with George, his affections for Lucy and his mother run into his dislike of Eugene. Lucy’s affection for George runs into her distaste for his rich-kid habits. Isabel is torn between love of her son and love of Eugene.  Fanny is caught between a lifelong grudge against George and seeing him as a potential ally.  Eugene seems to have the most straightforward story in the whole mess – he loves Isabel and he loves his daughter, and he wants both to be happy; George is his only obstacle in both cases.

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I was especially struck by how the film looked. The Amberson house may be the grandest one in town, but everything seemed cluttered, fusty and dour; the ceilings all too low, furniture too showy, rooms too gaudy.  It was a notable change from the spacious, bright sets for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Top Hat, in particular – there are scenes set in mansions for those films as well, but they’re bright, spacious Art Deco fantasies with immensely high ceilings.  The Ambersons’ rooms are all dark and claustrophobic – no doubt intentionally, as it forces the characters close together so they can tear each other apart that much more easily.  One of the most light-filled scenes comes in a train station, when George’s uncle Jack is finally taking his leave of the family; he literally walks off into a pool of light, leaving George behind in the dark.  I have yet to see if this is an affectation of Welles’, but it definitely suits the story.

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Speaking of Welles and Magnificent Ambersons – I would be remiss in overlooking the biggest story from this film’s production history. Welles’ original vision for the film was longer, and had a different ending – Welles wasn’t a fan of the redemptive arc the story ultimately gave George, and shot something more severe. But when he was just about done editing, Welles was recruited by the U.S. State Department to make a film in South America, to drum up Latin American support for the Allied forces during World War II.   Welles finished a rough cut of Ambersons, turned the reins over to his colleague Robert Wise and head south.   The studio screened the film for a test audience, with decidedly mixed results. But instead of consulting with Welles, the studio dealt directly with Wise – giving him a hefty list of cuts and ordering a rewrite of the ending in keeping with the novel.  Welles was understandably upset, but his contract gave the studio final say over the film, so he had little recourse.  In all, nearly an hours’ worth of footage was cut from Welles’ original version.   Welles’ colleagues later said that the original cut would have surpassed Citizen Kane as his masterwork; Welles himself was profoundly hurt by what he saw as a betrayal, and his mistrust of the studio system dogged him for the rest of his career.

Movie Crash Course: My Man Godfrey

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My Man Godfrey certainly looks pretty, and it has some sharp socio-economic commentary.  I’m afraid that one detail of the plot had me baffled, though.

William Powell is the “Godfrey” of the title.  We first meet him in a Hooverville overlooking the East River, when his peace is disturbed by a group of spoiled socialites dressed to the nines – sisters Cornelia (Gail Patrick) and Irene (Carole Lombard), with Cornelia’s boyfriend in tow.  The sisters are competing against each other in a fundraising scavenger hunt, and one of the items on the list is “a forgotten man” such as himself.  Cornelia charges up to Godfrey, offering him five dollars to be her bum-for-hire. Godfrey is of course offended, and tells her so.  As she flees, Irene spares a moment to congratulate him for sticking up for himself.  She also confesses that she’s glad her stuck-up sister got her comeuppance.  Godfrey offers to accompany Irene back to the scavenger hunt as her bum-for-hire instead; but when they arrive, Godfrey waits until Irene’s been granted her points, then tells off the entire crowd before stalking towards the door.  Instead of taking offense, the kindhearted Irene offers Godfrey a job by way of apology.

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Thus does Godfrey find himself catering to the Bullock family – Cornelia and Irene, their parents Alexander and Angelica, and Carlo, whom Angelica calls her “protégé” but whose actual role is undefined.  Long-suffering maid Molly warns Godfrey on his first day that he won’t last long – but not because the family is strict.  On the contrary – the family is bonkers, and most of the Bullocks’ butlers end up quitting.  But Godfrey needs his job too much, and sticks things out – standing firm and unruffled in the face of some highly dysfunctional hijinks.

The sisters come to single him out for two very different types of special attention. Cornelia, still smarting from Godfrey’s snubs, embarks on a campaign to drive him out. Irene’s affections run in the opposite direction – she starts to fall in love with him.  Godfrey walks the tightrope between them, hanging on to his position despite them both; he’s had a troubled past, and his job with the Bullocks may be exactly the path to reinvention he was looking for…

I liked the social commentary – there are a few times when the Bullocks’ exploitative treatment of Godfrey, and others, gets rightly called out; Cornelia gets her comeuppance a few times in particular.  Godfrey’s backstory is not implausible, and even the other folks in the Hooverville are treated sympathetically – they’re also given a bit of a fairytale happy ending along with everyone else.  And everyone more or less gets the ending that they deserve: the Bullocks collectively tone down the crazy, Cornelia ultimately Learns A Lesson, pushover Alexander finally stands up to Angelica about how weird Carlo is, and Irene wins her heart’s desire – and learns how to calm down and take charge in attaining it.

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Incidentally, the actors enjoyed a happy outcome as well.  Carole Lombard hadn’t even been considered for her part at first – but William Powell insisted on hiring her as a condition of his own involvement.  He and Lombard had been briefly married three years previously; however, while divorced, they were on good terms, and got on well on set.  This was the year that “Best Supporting” acting categories were introduced at the Academy Awards, and My Man Godfrey enjoyed a nomination sweep of all four categories – Lombard and Powell for Actress and Actor, Alice Brady for her supporting role as Angelica, and Mischa Auer as Carlo.  They didn’t win, mind you, but like they say, it’s an honor to be nominated.

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I’m saying a lot about the acting.  And that’s because – despite that acclaim, it’s a part of Powell’s own performance, up against Lombard specifically, that struck a false note with me.  Irene got on my nerves a little, but that’s more a function of the character than the actress; Lombard is just fine as the ditzy Irene, and it’s obvious her Irene is smitten with Godfrey.  As for Powell, his Godfrey holds Irene at arms’ length – something you would expect of a butler.  But towards the very end, the script implies there’s a different reason for Godfrey’s distancing himself.  And I do mean “the script” says this – because for the life of me, I cannot see anything in Powell’s performance to suggest that particular nuance. And thus at the very end, when Irene does something that I’m sure I’m meant to assume leaves Godfrey surprised but happy, I was left feeling like he was being exploited all over again.

I may watch this again at some point – there may be notes in Powell’s performance I missed first time around.

Movie Crash Course: Mr. Deeds Goes To Town

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I mentioned seeing Mr. Deeds Goes To Town to a co-worker; he’d never heard of it (although he vaguely remembered hearing about a more recent remake).  Nevertheless, when I started recounting the plot to him, he accurately guessed each and every plot point in turn.  Yep – it’s that predictable.  But there is enough endearing charm that I still enjoyed it.

Gary Cooper stars as Longfellow Deeds, a greeting-card writer living a simple homespun life in small-town Vermont at the top of the film.  He also happens to be the long-lost nephew of Martin Semple, a multi-millionaire who’s just died in a car crash in Italy; Semple’s lawyers (Cedar, Cedar, Cedar and Budington) come to collect him, informing him that he has now inherited $20 million and needs to decide how to manage Semple’s estate.  But they have an ulterior motive – Semple had been somewhat lax in his money affairs, turning the entire control of his finances over to his legal team (and thus letting them quietly bilk him), and they hope to convince Deeds to do the same.

Meanwhile, New York’s press is eager for news about this brand-new member of the upper class – but the Cedars have appointed a publicist, Cornelius Cobb, to be Deeds’ gatekeeper.  Star reporter “Babe” Bennett (Jean Arthur) concocts a plan to pose as an everygirl with similar small-town roots and befriend Deeds, going out with him on a series of dates; then secretly writing about his exploits and fish-out-of-water faux pas. Early on she dubs him “The Cinderella Man”, a nickname Deeds bristles at – he knows it’s mean-spirited.

But wouldn’t you know it, Deeds’ small-town common sense keeps him from being easily suckered in by the Cedars – and his simple charm captures Babe’s heart. Ashamed of her articles, Babe washes her hands of the whole thing – quitting the newspaper and coming clean to Deeds.  But that same day, Deeds concocts a plan to disperse the entire fortune through a series of grants to small family farms.  The Cedars, panicked that their cash cow is going rogue, attempt to have him declared mentally unfit, with the resulting trial forcing Deeds to try to defend not just his decisions about the money, but his entire outlook on life and way of being.

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“Lemme guess,” my co-worker said at this point when I was recounting the story.  “Small-town common-sense wins.”

“Yep.”

“And it makes him too smart to be taken in by the foxy big city lawyers.”

“Yep.”

“And it has a happy ending.”

“Yep.”

Listen, that really doesn’t give anything away.  I try not to spoil the movies when I see them, but you really really can see this outcome a mile off. Deeds is an almost stereotypical New England Common-Sense Everyman, and Cedar ends up being so stuck-up and smarmy that you know he’s going to get his comeuppance.

Happily, Cooper’s performance tempers the stereotype.  While there is a little bit of small-town golly-shucks in his depiction of Deeds, there is also a good deal of savvy – he sees through some of Cedar’s antics in some fairly astute ways now and then – and a surprising tendency towards temper (a few times, when Deeds catches someone in ill behavior, he punches them out).  The film also gives Deeds some moments of childlike whimsey – roping Babe into a duet of “Suwannee River” in the park, sliding down the bannisters in his mansion, marveling at New York City sights. One scene with Deeds playing around with an echo in his mansion, and then enlisting the house staff to try it too, was so pointlessly and purely fun that I laughed out loud.

This was director Frank Capra’s second film after the award-winning It Happened One Night. However, it was his first after having had a life-altering conversation with a Christian Scientist friend – one which spurred Capra to think deeply about what his films could say.  “God gave you those talents,” his friend insisted.  “They are His gifts to you, to use for His purpose.”  Capra resolved that somehow, henceforward, his films would try to convey a subtle evangelical message to audiences: “My films must let every man, woman, and child know that God loves them, that I love them, and that peace and salvation will become a reality only when they all learn to love each other.”

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But rather than going overtly religious, Capra chose to work the “love thy neighbor” angle with this film, spending a good deal of time on Deeds’ plan to help impoverished farmers.  A large chunk of Deeds’ testimony at his sanity hearing is devoted to a defense for helping the less fortunate farmers, simply on the grounds that they needed the most help.  “It’s like I have a rowboat,” Deeds says at one point, “and I have the choice of helping a man in another boat who’s just tired of rowing, or a man who’s drowning.  Wouldn’t you help the drowning man?”    For some critics, that message sounded uncomfortably close to Communism; but for the most part, audiences and critics were charmed by the simple good nature of Longfellow Deeds, and the film earned Capra his second Oscar for Best Direction.

The remake my co-worker heard about exists, by the way. It came out in 2002, starring Adam Sandler and Winona Ryder, and was apparently generally faithful to the plot, but reportedly lacked the charm of Capra’s vision and did poorly at the box office.  But its soundtrack used a Dave Matthews Band song I rather like, so it’s not all bad.

Movie Crash Course: Swing Time

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Right.  You remember how in my review of Top Hat, I gave a particular shout-out to Astaire and Rogers’ dancing, and was lukewarm on the plot?….Yeah, I had the same reaction to Swing Time, except even more so.  The dancing felt more impressive, but the plot and the rest of the film felt…more flawed.   Initially I was uneasy about my response, since several critics tout this as one of their best works; but I’ve read a few other critics’ reviews, and even they focus almost exclusively on the dancing, saying next to nothing about the plot.  I suppose I could have ignored the bits that didn’t work for me…but I’m watching a movie, not a dance recital.  And the non-dance bits just plain didn’t work this time.

This time around, Fred Astaire is John “Lucky” Garnett, a performer in the suburbs who’s engaged to a wealthy heiress; but her father disapproves the match and insists he find another line of business.  Lucky concocts a plan to try gambling instead – heading to New York, making a big pile of money, then coming home victorious and marrying his sweetie.  Except almost the second he gets to New York he meets Penny Carol (Rogers), an instructor at a dance school, and enrolls for a class with her as a pretext for getting acquainted. The pair are so well-suited as dancing partners that they come up with a night club act, and start to fall for each other – except Lucky’s still got a fiancée, and Penny has the orchestra leader, Ricardo Romero, trying to woo her as well…

So, okay.  The dancing throughout is top-notch, with some of Astaire and Rogers’ most famous routines to some now-classic songs on display.  The song “Pick Yourself Up” is from here, with Astaire pretending to bumble his way through a dance lesson before busting out a flawless tap routine and blowing Rogers away.  A later number, “Never Gonna Dance,” is a showstopper, coming towards the end when our lovebirds are doing one more dance together when they think they are about to be parted.  Sometimes the songs themselves are enough of a draw, even without dancing – “A Fine Romance” is also here, with Rogers lamenting Astaire’s lack of ardor.  “The Way You Look Tonight” (an Oscar winner for Best Song that year, by the way) sees Lucky idly playing the piano and singing in Penny’s dressing room at the club, sparking her crush.  (Amusingly, Penny is in the middle of washing her hair when he sings, and comes to listen in awe; the sentiment of the moment ends when they both realize “the way she looks” resembles a wet cat.)

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But that wasn’t enough to shake my feeling that throughout the whole movie, everyone was being mean to each other. Lucky’s actually due to marry his fiancée at the very beginning of the movie, but his performer colleagues pull a series of pranks and throw diversions in his path to make him fully two hours late to the church.  Lucky’s buddy “Pop” has followed him to New York for a go at gambling as well, and much of his success comes through cheating. Ricardo shamelessly flirts with Penny right in front of Lucky, and stages an outright strike during Penny and Lucky’s planned night club debut. Lucky is an outright pest to Penny when they first meet, getting her so angry that a nearby traffic cop threatens to arrest her for disturbing the peace.  Even the “happy ending” at the very end – come on, that’s not a spoiler, you knew this was going to have one – comes about through pranking someone and making them look ridiculous.  I can’t help it – you can have all the pretty dancing in the world, but if the dancers themselves are all acting like jerks, it’s still going to leave me cold.

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I need to mention that a dance moment also left me uneasy. Astaire has a number in the film called “Bojangles In Harlem,” which is a bit of a personal statement for Astaire – it’s an homage to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the African-American vaudevillian whose tap-dancing style inspired Astaire as a child.  Now, the dancing in this number is stunning.  Astaire starts out leading a bevy of chorus girls, but midway through the number they leave him to a solo – and midway through, some camera trickery makes it look like his shadow runs out of breath halfway through and walks off to take a rest.  The lyrics of the song also make clear that this is a love letter to Robinson, singing his praises to the skies.  But – throughout this whole number, Astaire is in blackface, and is dressed in an over-the-top Jim Crow minstrel outfit.

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I’ve read a few apologetics for this scene that point out Astaire’s makeup isn’t a full-on “blackface” caricature; the overly-red lips and white-rimmed eyes are absent.  The lyrics are also free of the stilted dialect and vernacular you’d expect.  It is apparent that back in 1936, this was considered a sincere homage – possibly even tasteful.  Today, however, it left a very sour taste in my mouth.

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My recommendation: get the film on DVD, skip everything but the dances and call it good.

Movie Crash Course: Modern Times

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You’ll remember I wasn’t that big a fan of Chaplin’s City Lights – I found it a little too twee, with too much schtick and not enough story to hold it together. Modern Times seems to fix that.

One gag from this film looms large in the minds of many – Chaplin’s Little Tramp character is a factory worker, and gets sucked into the machine, winding his way through the oversized gears.  And yeah, that happens, but it all happens within the first ten minutes – it’s the culmination of a breakdown Chaplin’s Tramp has in an assembly line, after being pushed to repetitiously tighten pairs of screws at a faster and faster rate.  Pushed to the limit, he snaps, and starts trying to tighten everything he sees – doorknobs, faucets, buttons on a lady’s coat – finishing up with a dive into the machinery.  He is fished out and sent to an asylum to recover.

And that’s largely the end of the “Little Tramp as Factory Employee” part of the plot – and the beginning of the rest of the movie, which is “Little Tramp As Chaplin’s Advocate For The Unemployed” plot.  Which I was not expecting.

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When the Tramp is released from the hospital, he wanders the streets a bit, figuring out how he’s going to get work – and sheerly by accident gets caught up in a Communist Party demonstration and is subsequently arrested.  But when he subverts a prison break – also sheerly by accident – the wardens lavish him with preferential treatment, to the point that when he’s released, he immediately commits petty theft in an effort to get himself thrown back in prison again.  But in the paddy wagon he meets “The Gamine” (Paulette Goddard), a just-turned-eighteen orphan who’s hiding from Child Protective Services and has stolen some bread to feed herself.  They take a shine to each other, and so when the police wagon crashes, they escape together.  And they’re a team through the rest of the film – despite the Tramp getting swept up in and out of jail a couple more times, the Gamine continuing to dodge CPS, and both drifting in and out of jobs; their futures are uncertain at film’s end, but they’re hopeful, because they’re together.

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Chaplin had a different ending in mind for the film – where after many go-rounds of one or the other getting into trouble and sent to prison, the Tramp comes home after a stint in jail to find that the Gamine is gone – she’s decided to become a nun.  He visits her convent to say his good-byes, and then leaves, parted from her forever. But ultimately Chaplin decided that this was too sappy – and not quite in keeping with his vision of the pair as being “the only two live spirits in a world of automatons”, as the intertitles say at one point.

….Yes, I said intertitles.  Even though this was well into the era of the talkies, Chaplin still produced this as a silent film – or, rather, silent-ish.  He uses sound as the basis for a couple gags – a sequence with a couple of rumbling stomachs, a sequence where the Tramp is trying get a singing-waiter job and improvises a song in Italian gibberish – but having the Tramp speak just plain didn’t feel right to Chaplin.  I’m inclined to agree; Chaplin has a definite eye for physical comedy, and here the cuteness is reined in enough to let the gags come out.

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One bit that tickled me more than I was expecting came early on, with Chaplin as the guinea pig for an “automatic lunch-feeding machine” – a sort of adult high-chair with robot arms feeding him soup, corn on the cob, meatballs, and pie in turn – and one periodically wiping his mouth with a big sponge in lieu of a napkin.  Of course the machine goes haywire, with food being flung in his hair and his lap and the floor and everything in a three foot radius – but robo-sponge still neatly and perfectly dabbed his mouth every few seconds, which struck me funnier and funnier each time.  Another sequence I liked saw the Tramp in the prison mess hall, where a fellow prisoner has tried to smuggle in cocaine by hiding it in a salt shaker.  The Tramp uses that very shaker – and, as they say, hilarity ensues.  But not too much hilarity – it would have been easy to show The Tramp going completely manic and running amok, but his “cocaine high”  was a lot more restrained – and, I think, funnier as a result.

The ending – and one or two other scenes – reminded several moviegoers of Rene Clair’s A Nous La Liberte. Clair’s studio, a Franco-German firm called “Tobis,” sued Chaplin for plagiarism, demanding financial restitution and ordering that Chaplin withdraw the film from distribution permanently.  The case was fairly weak, and Clair himself was a huge Chaplin fan and begged them to drop the suit.  But Tobis persisted, even renewing the suit every few years over the course of the next decade until Chaplin finally settled to make them go away.  Fortunately, though, Chaplin retained the rights to continue screening the film.