>> Sunday, May 31, 2009
USA/Silent/B&W-13m./Dir: George Nichols/Wr: Craig Hutchinson/Cast: Charles Chaplin (Drunk), Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (Another Drunk), Peggy Pearce (Wife), Edgar Kennedy (Rough drinking buddy), Hank Mann (Husband)
Charlie Chaplin once again mined his stage inebriate act for his seventh foray into film, His Favorite Pastime. The short begins in a bar, and Chaplin’s tramp character is already so stewed that when lighting his cigar, he tosses away the cigar and hangs onto the lit match. After dealing with another drunk (Fatty Arbuckle) who is intent on stealing Chaplin’s beer, the tramp steps out of the bar to catch some air. There he spies a pretty young woman, and he hits on her hard… until her husband shows up. While returning to the bar seems like a relatively safe move, Chaplin ends up spending more time roughhousing with the other barflies (and an uncooperative swinging door) than he does downing whiskey.
Eventually the tramp returns to the street and catches a glimpse of the married woman getting into an automobile. The lecherous lush follows the car and somehow manages to arrive at the woman’s house before she does herself; but the stewed stalker is forced to hit the streets when the woman, her maid, her husband, and various neighbors make it clear that he is an unwelcome guest.
His Favorite Pastime will never be confused with Chaplin’s best work. Like most of the early Chaplin Keystone shorts, the film has little plot beyond “Chaplin drinks and causes mayhem,” and the comedian’s tramp character lacks the subtlety and depth that would develop once the comic gained full control of his productions. While slapstick roughhousing would always be part of Chaplin’s comic arsenal; in the later films, the recipients of the tramp’s boot would deserve the abuse. In His Favorite Pastime, Chaplin strikes out at innocents and is simply a drunken lout.
Still, it’s easy to see why Chaplin’s character and this particular short were hits with audiences of the time. The comedian manages a number of funny improvisations with props, including his battle with a swinging door that anticipates his mêlée with a Murphy bed in the later short One A.M. (1916). There are also some nice acrobatics, including a tumble over a stair rail into a perfect sitting position on a couch below. While there is little motivation for Chaplin’s actions beyond the fact that he is lubricated in the extreme, the story holds together better than in most of his earlier Keystones, and the short is a major improvement over his previous film, Tango Tangles (1914).
Of course, it is impossible for a modern critic to fairly judge any of Chaplin’s Keystone shorts, because none of them exist today in their original release versions. The existing print of His Favorite Pastime starts and ends abruptly, a sure sign of missing footage. In fact, a review from the time of the film’s release mentions that the tramp ends the short atop a telegraph pole. That scene like the telegraph itself has been lost to time.
Drinks Consumed--Beer and whiskey
Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, stumbling, flirting, passing out, brawling, and public disturbance
Potent Quotables--None to speak of
Video Availability--His Favorite Pastime, like most of the public domain Keystone shorts, is available on numerous budget DVDs from companies such as Delta and Madacy. However, an effort is underway by the British Film Institute to restore all of the Chaplin Keystone shorts, so the Keystones will eventually be available on video in improved condition. The film as it currently survives can be viewed on embedded video above.
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Chaplin was drunk again in Mabel’s Married Life (1914).
Charlie Chaplin at Keystone and Essanay: Dawn of the Tramp
The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion
Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema