This two-reel comedy, one of a dozen Chaplin made under his Mutual contract, offers a story line he followed time and again throughout his career: lower class Charlie fakes his way unto upper class society under an alias, fools people for a while, then wreaks havoc. Sometimes Charlie's fraud is deliberate (as in this film), while on other occasions people mistake him for something he is not, but whatever the case the idea was one Chaplin used regularly, starting with an early Keystone of 1914, Caught in a Cabaret, and recurring in other short comedies of 1915-16 such as A Jitney Elopement and The Rink. The premise turns up as late as 1940 in The Great Dictator, although in that instance the farcical aspect of the plot has turned into a darker political statement. Without getting overly analytical about the matter, it would appear that this scenario held some sort of deep meaning for Chaplin, who grew up in poverty and yet wound up wealthy and celebrated, hobnobbing with some of the most famous people in the world. Was this man insecure about the wealth and power he'd earned? It's not so far-fetched to wonder if Chaplin, recalling his roots in the London slums, might have sometimes felt like a fraud when he found himself dining with the likes of Winston Churchill, Lady Astor or Bernard Shaw.
Anyhow, getting back to the matter at hand: The Count stands as one of Charlie's lightest and most playful short comedies, perhaps not one of his very best but highly enjoyable nonetheless. There's a lot of good byplay between pint-sized Charlie and his most memorable "heavy," the enormous Eric Campbell, who wears an outrageous beard this time around. Campbell plays a tailor and Charlie is his assistant, soon fired for ineptitude; but before long the former apprentice gets mixed up in the conniving tailor's scheme to impersonate a count, in order to court a wealthy heiress (Edna Purviance). I especially enjoyed the bit when Campbell explains his scheme to Charlie, and punctuates the speech with his elbow in a "Get it?" gesture, until Charlie finally slides a wooden chair into place to protect himself. Through various complications Charlie himself is mistaken for the count, and receives royal treatment at a grand party at Edna's mansion, while his boss is forced to serve as his assistant. The party is the setting for a number of amusing comic set-pieces, including a dinner of spaghetti and watermelon (when did you last see these dishes served together?), and a dance in the ballroom. For me, the dance is the film's highlight, as it displays Chaplin at the peak of his physical skill, sliding and gliding about with almost supernatural agility. Only Mickey Mouse could move so well, and with such comic grace!
The Count may not rank with Chaplin's greatest short comedies, but if any of his contemporaries had made this same film it would probably be regarded as something special. It's hard for me to be objective about this particular movie because The Count was one of the first Chaplin comedies I ever saw, way back in grade school, when I borrowed an 8mm print from my local library, threaded it up on my projector, and threw the beam onto a wall of my room. It was the first inkling I had that Chaplin's reputation as a great comedian was so well deserved, the first time I said to myself: "Hey, this guy really IS funny!"
Charlie burns a count's trousers while ironing them and is fired. The tailor finds an invitation to dinner at Miss Moneybags and goes in place of the count. Charlie goes to the kitchen of the same house; he is attracted to the cook, and so are the butler and a policeman. Once discovered by the tailor-count, Charlie must pretend to be the count's secretary. The real count shows up.
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February 10, 2019 at 10:48 AM