Sunday, February 19, 2017
Cruel, Cruel Love (USA,1914)
This film was made during the first year of Chaplin in films, which he spent working for Keystone studios. Thus, the style of this comedy short was typical of the output of Keystone films of the era: Knockabout slapstick, actors in broad gestures to the point of situations often have a surreal aura, fast pace of films, misunderstandings, chases, fake facial hair. We can see it all in this film. Therefore, the pathos, slow pace of subsequent Chaplin films -which made him a legend of cinema worldwide – were still absent here.
Another important fact is that this short film was considered lost for some decades and the existing footage was found in South America, with some missing minutes compared with the original film. Thus, current audiences must take it into consideration before analyzing this cute little slapstick comedy.
It must be highlighted that the actors do engage in broad, stagy gestures, which was an acting style already out of date back to 1910s films. This is particularly true when we realize that the subtle style of actresses like Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, etc were already quite successful in Hollywood at that time. Minta Durfee had the most exaggerated acting among all main actors of this film, but it is really no surprise as she always acted quite stagy in her Keystone films.
The character of little tramp existed only as a rough draft of what the audiences would see years later. Actually, Chaplin plays a wealthy man who was left by his love interest (played by actress Minta Durfee, who in real life was back then the first wife of another silent comedy star of the same studio, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle) after she caught Chaplin in an apparently compromising situation with the maid. In reality, Chaplin was only trying to help the maid, who had just hurt her foot and the supreme irony is that the maid had hurt herself right after meeting her own boyfriend (who, obviously was not Chaplin, as she already had another sweetheart).
Chaplin, in despair, tried to kill himself by taking poison even though he did not know that his butler had replaced the poison by water and was laughing out loud at Chaplin’s near-death reactions. As Chaplin was not aware he had only drank water, he thought his death was imminent.
The real boyfriend of the maid showed up and explained the entire situation to Durfee, that Chaplin had not done anything wrong. Durfee sends Chaplin a letter saying she wants him back and the film has a happy end.
Although those who are not familiar with Chaplin’s short films in his first years in Hollywood (before he took over full creative control on his films and when he was not a cinema star yet) will barely recognize him in this film, it is still worth watching. This comedy perhaps looks a bit “primitive” to nowadays’ standards, but they were quite usual and popular back to the 1910s and they were vehicles to catapult a plenty of actors into stardom, being Chaplin only one of them.
The production values of Hollywood were already being consolidated back them. An example of it is that the first comedy feature-length comedy of Hollywood was produced exactly in 1914 by the same Keystone studios, having Charlie Chaplin in the cast and also Marie Dressler (who was already a famous theater actress). This short film was definitely part of all evolvement cinema was witnessing on early XX century.