Making a Living; aka, Take My Picture (1914) was the first film starring Charlie Chaplin.
He plays a lady's man & con artist in tophat & enormous mustache & a monocle. He almost looks like one of those Oil-can Harry type villains from stage melodramas, who'd go, "Nya-ha-ha," or "Curses, foiled again."
He hasn't yet devised the Little Tramp character he would barely begin to develop immediately after in The Kid Auto Race at Venice (1914). He had no screen credit originally, though in re-releases he'd be tagged the star of all his earliest one-reel comedies.
He does already have the walk & general mannerisms of the Little Tramp, grabbing his tophat much as he would his bowler in films to come, & swinging a walking stick. But he's an aggressively bad guy, & would remain so in the majority of his earliest films, with no hint of the sensitive tramp that would make him the legend of the silent era.
He swindles a man out of a few dollars then gets in a fight with him over a girl. He soonafter sets out to a newspaper office, probably intending a bigger swindle, but the guy he'd been fighting with works at the office, & the swindler's luck is failing him.
Desparate for funds, he sees quite a terrible automobile accident, & while several people are trying to help the trapped & injured man, Charlie grabs a valuable camera & takes off running.
His character's callous disregard for the injured man stuck in the wreckage really makes his character nasty, but the reporter Charlie victimizes is scarsely any better, bending to the injured man to interview him for the paper & not really helping the poor guy. It's a film without a hero.
In the camera is a photo of the accident, which Charlie hopes to sell to the newspaper as his own, although this plotline isn't well developed, & there are no text cards to clarify anything.
Tracked down by the camera's owner (director Henry Lehrman plays Charlies' maltreated & betrayed nemesis throughout), the little swindler escapes after a fistfight & takes off on one of those often-seen runs through the streets that Keystone Studio was especially fond of staging.
He's pursued by the angry pugilist right onto the trolley tracks where they begin fighting anew & keep fighting even when stuck to the front of the trolley that smashed into them.
It's not much of a story or a film. There are no effective gags, & no character to identify withy. But it's an historical moment for movie history, & with hindsight, its easy to tell a genius is about to bloom. Charlie would have to move from Mack Sennet's studio to Essanay & do more directing & writing his own films before he began to shine.
For his second film Kid Auto Race in Venice; aka, The Kid Auto Race, Charlie is for the first time seen with his cane & bowler, watching a children's auto race.
He's still not the little tramp however, & he is playing an obnoxious sour-faced drunk if not just an idiotic meglomaniac who won't stay off the race track.
He struts unsteadily & poses self-importantly, getting in fights with people who trying to get him off the track or stop him from posing in front of cameras that are there to photograph the race.
Keystone pictures were rarely scripted but were situations set up permitting the actors to work it out on the spot, which explains why so often nothing much at all develops & there are no stories per se. The drunkard's insistance on getting in front of the camera becomes the one overplayed gag, & Charlie as actor just can't think of anything else to do with the set-up.
The cameraman has more depth than Charlie's character, as sometimes the the poor guy is polite in trying to lead the dumb shit off the track, & sometimes he's so frustrated with the fool that he smacks him on the ground.
More interesting are the kids' beautiful little moterless race cars which shoot down a long slope onto the track. But we see awfully little of this, & the film ends with Charlie pulling a really ugly face in front of the reporter's camera.
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