Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A Thief Catcher

(Keystone Film Company, US 1914) D: Ford Sterling; P: Mack Sennett; cast: Ford Sterling, Mack Swain, edgar Kennedy, Charles Chaplin, William Hauber, George Jeske(?), Rube Miller; HD digital (from 16 mm), 8'; source: Paul Gierucki. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (GCM) with e-subtitles in Italian and Donald Sosin on the grand piano, 5 Oct 2010

David Robinson in the GCM Catalogue: "Late in his life Chaplin told an interviewer that he had appeared in small roles as a cop in his early days at Keystone. There has been no concrete evidence of this until 2010 and the discovery in a Michigan antique fair, by the collector Paul Gierucki, of a print of A Thief Catcher. The print was a 16mm reissue of c.1918, by Tower Film Company, under the title His Regular Job, and has now been transferred to Hd digital format.
Released on 19 February 1914, A Thief Catcher was directed by Ford Sterling, Keystone’s reigning comedy star, whom Chaplin was destined to replace. In his own earliest starring films, Chaplin – who here only plays a cameo role – was directed by Henry Lehrman or George Nichols, while Mabel Normand herself directed the “Mabel” pictures: this was the only time he worked under Sterling. Sterling, as star of the film, appears (from his badge) to be a rural sheriff, who is captured and imprisoned in a shack by three “yeggmen” (a period word for burglars) – played by Mack Swain, edgar Kennedy, and William Hauber. Around 6 minutes into the 10-minute film, Chaplin appears as one of a pair of policemen, with a large uniform coat and flat hat, wielding a club and already sporting the “Charlie” toothbrush moustache. In the 2-minute cameo, along with the unidentified cop and in conflict with Swain and Kennedy, Chaplin’s movements and gestures are unmistakeable. The scene ends with his staggering out of the picture after being hit on the head by Sterling. He does not appear in an earlier scene with the full complement of Keystone Kops in the station, which suggests that he joined the cast of A Thief Catcher only for this scene. He reappears briefly, however, at the close of the film for some knockabout with Ford Sterling, which is somewhat unclear because of jump-cuts resulting from damage to the film. A Thief Catcher was the fourth Chaplin film in order of release, but releases did not always reflect the order of production. Brent Walker’s exhaustive Keystone research reveals that the film, which had the working title The dogs, was filmed between 5-26 January 1914. This apparently exceptionally long shooting time for Keystone (where a major one-reel production would normally be finished within a week) resulted from torrential rains which continued from 13-24 January, closing down production entirely. Hence the actual shooting days on A Thief Catcher are likely to have been 5-12 and 25- 26 January.
Chaplin’s first Keystone film, Making a Living, was completed on 9 January. He himself said that the Tramp costume was first devised for an initially improvised appearance in Mabel’s Strange Predicament, shot between 6-12 January. on Saturday 10 January he appeared in the Tramp costume in Kid Auto Races. Between Showers, which took advantage of the storm-flooded roads, was filmed between 27-31 January. Since he is wearing the characteristic moustache, it seems unlikely that this appearance preceded Mabel’s Strange Predicament, suggesting that he shot his scene on 25-26 January, before starting work on Between Showers. Hooman Mehran, however, favours an earlier date, of 6 January, since the exteriors here show no sign of recent rain. So the question remains open, whether this was Chapin’s second or fourth film.
The most significant “supposed to be missing” Chaplin Keystone remains Her Friend the Bandit, released on 4 June 1914, and, confusingly, said to have been re-issued under the title The Thief Catcher. – DAVID ROBINSON (from information provided by Hooman Mehran, Glenn Mitchell, and Brent Walker)".

The lost Charles Chaplin film that was missing even from the filmographies. Chaplin is in a small role in this Ford Sterling comedy. The cowardly policeman Ford Sterling photographs two crooks in the act and is then chased by the crooks into a barn. Other policemen, among them the bumbling Charles Chaplin, spring to the rescue. Crude, violent slapstick exciting for the combined talent on display.

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