Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Rogue - 1918

Country: United States
Language: English
Director: Arvid E. Gillstrom
Writer: Grace Gershon (titles)
Stars: Billy West, Oliver Hardy and Ethel Marie Burton
Release Date: 15 February 1918 (USA)
Filming Locations: Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA
Production Co: King Bee Studios
Sound Mix: Silent
Color: Black and White
Plot Keywords: Actor Shares First Name With Character
Genres: Short | Comedy
This is one of a series of films made by comedian Billy West in which he imitated as closely as possible the makeup, costume, and mannerisms of the much more popular Charlie Chaplin. West was very technically skilled, and he managed a good reproduction of everything about Chaplin's performance except its soulfulness, subtlety, and humor. This is the second West-as-Chaplin film I have seen and I have not been very impressed either time. Here the primary gag, which is repeated virtually ad nauseum, is "The Rogue (I can't call him 'Charlie' and he isn't really 'Billy') steals somebody else's food." There are plenty of permutations on that, with West's character generally causing bland mayhem for those around him.
West, while nailing a good amount of Chaplin's performance style, even seems to have got his character somewhat wrong. While The Little Tramp was a basically good fellow with an insouciant, anti-authority streak, The Rogue here seems to be basically a jerk -- the kind of fellow who, asked to save a man who has fallen in the water, holds his head under it with his foot. It makes him a much harder protagonist with whom to sympathize.
A young Oliver Hardy is here as a restaurant owner whose food The Rogue tries to steal, and coincidentally, the father of the girl The Rogue pretends has run over so he can go home with her and steal her food (detecting a pattern?). It's interesting to see him in so early a role, but while he gets plenty of screen time he doesn't get too much to do beside jump around and look angry under his enormous moustache -- he's in full "bully" mode here.  

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