Review: Pay Day (1922)

>> Sunday, September 5, 2010

USA/Silent/B&W-26m./Dir: Charles Chaplin/Wr: Charles Chaplin/Cast: Charles Chaplin (Laborer), Phyllis Allen (His Wife), Mack Swain (Foreman), Edna Purviance (Foreman’s Daughter); Syd Chaplin (Charlie’s Friend & Lunch Cart Owner); Henry Bergman (Drinking Companion)

When critics discuss Charlie Chaplin’s best work, they usually mention the twelve classic shorts that he created under his 1916-1917 contract with Mutual Studios (including One A.M. and The Immigrant) and the later features that he made as an independent producer with United Artists (The Gold Rush, City Lights, etc.). The short subjects that Chaplin produced for First National Pictures between those two golden eras (1918-1923) are largely ignored. That does a great disservice to Chaplin’s First National output; because the best of those films--A Dog's Life (1918), The Idle Class (1921), Pay Day (1922), and The Pilgrim (1923)--match or surpass the quality of the Mutual shorts and are amongst the best work the comedian ever produced.

Pay Day (1922) is a banquet for lovers of soused slapstick. The short begins with Charlie arriving late for work on the construction site of a multi-level building. The foreman (Mack Swain) quickly puts the tardy laborer to work catching and stacking bricks on the second floor of the structure. As the workmen below pitch bricks in the air, Charlie catches the missiles in increasingly difficult positions (achieved through the simple special effect of running the film backwards). A short lunch break interrupts this acrobatic act, and Charlie (who didn’t bring his own lunch) manages to swipe the other employee’s meals through the aid of several well-choreographed elevator gags. After more brick stacking, Charlie receives his pay, a portion of which he hides from his battle-axe of a wife (Phyllis Allen), so he can go out drinking.

The second half of the short consists of the aftermath of an evening of drunken debauchery. Charlie and several of his work companions stagger out of the “Bachelor’s Club” and say their goodbyes before heading for home. This includes bickering over world affairs, a chorus of “Sweet Adeline,” getting tangled up in each others coats, and confusing Charlie’s cane for an umbrella. When it at last the men part, Charlie is so lubricated that he mistakenly hops on a lunch wagon, taking it for his streetcar home. This extended drunk sequence proves that, even after producing dozens of booze-fueled short subjects, Chaplin still found intoxication to be one of the most reliable themes from which to develop original comedy.

Pay Day might not rank with The Immigrant (1917) and A Dog's Life (1918) as one of the top ten shorts that Chaplin ever produced, but it would rank very near the top of the remainder of the list. It may be second-tier Chaplin; but it is a solid laugh-getter that is more inventive than the best films of most other comedians.

Drinks Consumed--Unknown (consumed offscreen)

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, stumbling, slurred speech, hiccups, bickering, and harmonizing

Potent Quotables--CHARLIE (SLURRED TITLE CARD): Where’s Christen-z-zen street?

Video Availability--The First National shorts have received a couple of major DVD releases, first from Image and later by Warner Home Video. If possible, try to get the out-of-print, original Image DVD which features the shorts as they were originally released in the 1920’s. The Warner Brothers release features the re-cut versions that Chaplin released in the 1970’s. Some of these re-cut versions have less footage, and others are stretch-printed to run a sound projection speed, which gives the video a staggered, unnatural look that ruins the timing of the comedy. Warner also did a poor job of transferring these inferior versions. The films are framed incorrectly, they play at the wrong frame speed, and the picture quality is poor due to PAL-conversion.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Chaplin continued to use soused slapstick after he jumped from short subjects to feature films, most notably in his masterpiece, City Lights (1931).

The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion
Unknown Chaplin: The Master at Work (DVD)
Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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