RINK, THE (Charles Chaplin, 1916, USA, 30m, BW)
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Edward Brewer (technical director)
Produced by Henry P. Caulfield
Written by Charles Chaplin (scenario)
Vincent Bryan (scenario)
Maverick Terrell (scenario)
Starring Charles Chaplin
Cinematography Roland Totheroh
George C. Zalibra
Edited by Charles Chaplin
Distributed by Mutual Film Corporation
December 4, 1916
Country United States
Language Silent film
The Rink, a silent film from 1916, was Charlie Chaplin's eighth film for Mutual Films. The film co-starred Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell, Henry Bergman, and Albert Austin, and is best known for showcasing Chaplin's roller skating skills.
Charles Chaplin - A Waiter. Posing as Sir Cecil Seltzer, C.O.D.
Edna Purviance - The Girl
James T. Kelley - Her Father
Eric Campbell - Mr. Stout, Edna's Admirer
Henry Bergman - Mrs. Stout and Angry Diner
Lloyd Bacon - Guest
Albert Austin - The Cook and Skater
Frank J. Coleman - Restaurant Manager
John Rand - Waiter
Charlotte Mineau - Friend of Edna
Leota Bryan - Friend of Edna
Chaplin’s Little Tramp character was still developing in 1916, when The Rink was made. It could, in fact, be argued that the character he plays here isn’t the tramp at all seeing as how he’s holding down a job as a waiter. Nevertheless, the biggest change that the tramp underwent from his first appearance in Kid Auto Races in Venice in 1914 was in the way he changed from being a mean-spirited jerk to a blameless innocent, the recipients of whose kicks to the backside were wholly deserving of their humiliating assault. He’s about midway through that transition in The Rink — not as much of a jerk as he was in the earliest movies, but still far from the finished article.
As with many of Chaplin’s two-reelers, The Rink is virtually two movies in one, with much of the action taking place in the restaurant in which Chaplin’s character works rather than the titular skating rink. Here, we see him waiting table on Eric Campbell, who would ironically wait table on Chaplin in an altogether less salubrious setting in the following year’s The Immigrant. Chaplin gets up to his usual antics, abusing customers and squaring up to workmates when they object to his slipshod methods. Campbell plays a character named Mr. Stout, and after he’s left the restaurant, his wife (Henry Bergman — The Circus, City Lights — in drag) comes in and begins flirting with another customer (James T. Kelley — The Immigrant, Safety Last). Later, we see Chaplin at the local skating rink during his lunch break, where he runs into Mr Stout flirting with a pretty young girl (Edna Purviance – The Kid, A Woman of Paris). Chaplin’s skating is so impressive that he receives an invitation to a skating party that night which all the aforementioned characters will be attending.
Most of the humour in this one arises from the episodes in the roller skating rink, although the restaurant sequences are worth catching simply for Chaplin’s wonderful comic timing and unique method of shaking a cocktail. On roller skates he gives his audience a superb demonstration of his skill and grace on wheels, gliding past and around the hapless Campbell and Bergman as they wobble shakily around the rink. Chaplin defies gravity as he battles to stay upright on a number of occasions and it’s easy to overlook the strength and energy required to give the impression that you’re on the verge of tumbling over for so long. Structurally, The Rink feels a little awkward, with Chaplin choosing to insert a solitary scene back at the restaurant after his lunchtime visit to the rink and before his return in the evening, but otherwise the movie shows Chaplin getting ever nearer to the height of his comic powers.
In one of his funniest movies of 1916, Charlie Chaplin again draws on old themes to provide a jumping-off point to demonstrate his developing talents. He also brings his audience into two worlds of his character, providing depth even without the level of sympathy seen in “The Vagabond” or “The Bank.”
The movie opens with an indescribably cute sequence of a kitten playing on a sleeping man, waking him up by swatting at a toy on a string, which is held by Edna Purviance (more evidence that funny cat videos predate the Internet). The man is her father, but we don’t learn anything else about their relationship because the scene shifts to a restaurant, where Charlie is dressed up and working as a waiter. Eric Campbell, as a customer, asks for the check and Charlie determines what he has eaten by looking at the food he spilled on himself (every item costs $1, which seems like a lot for the time). He pays, Charlie counts out his change and then takes it all as his tip. Eric gives chase, but Charlie hides behind other customers. Charlie has several funny run-ins with fellow waiter John Rand, largely because he refuses to abide by the doors marked “In” and “Out” to the kitchen. Rand winds up serving a customer a dish with a rag and floor scrubber on it, due to one of these mishaps. Charlie also gets food on him and on the cook (played by Albert Austin). There is one great bit where the manager (Frank J Coleman) tries to catch Charlie in the act, but due to his creative use of the In/Out doors and some fancy editing, he consistently misses him.
The incredible feats of films like Modern Times (1936) and The Great Dictator (1940) tend to take up most of the attention these days when we think about Charlie Chaplin. The Rink, however, released in 1916, was reportedly one of Chaplin’s most popular films at the time. The version of The Rink that I watched in preparation for this piece declared the film a prototype for many future Chaplin endeavours, containing “every variety of comic fall and many other gags that were later widely imitated”. Chaplin’s antics on skates in Modern Times and his later attempts to wait tables come to mind. Written and directed by Chaplin, The Rink has its own origins in the form of a Karno Company sketch called “Skating”, which was written by Charlie’s brother, Syd. The Rink itself has also subsequently been modified and mutated from the original, existing in many versions.
The widespread popularity of The Rink, in all its many versions, cannot be underestimated. Chaplin’s ability to draw humour from so many of the complicated experiences of modern life in cities across the world did not go unnoticed by many intellectuals and social commentators at the time. This was particularly true of Chaplin’s reception in Germany. Clocking in as Chaplin’s 8th film with Mutual, The Rink was actually the very first Chaplin film shown in Germany. It was first seen in Berlin on 2nd September 1921, three weeks prior to Chaplin’s first visit to the city, during which Chaplin was surprised to be largely ignored by the Berlin public. In London and Paris in 1921, he generally caused traffic jams. Throughout the rest of 1920s, however, the popularity of Chaplin’s Mutual films in Germany was said to rival that in France and England.
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