A Day’s Pleasure

Director: Charles Chaplin
Screenwriters: Charles Chaplin

Institute History

  • 1989 Sundance Film Festival


It’s enlightening to compare One A.M with A Day’s Pleasure, some three years and more than a dozen films later. Though Chaplin the performer and Chaplin the writer/director are always worth watching, he is not at his best in this hastily made film, and it’s interesting to see what he falls back on and what he makes work most easily and instinctively in this uneven two-reeler. Where One A.M. is virtually without title cards, A Day’s Pleasure begins with one and cuts inexplicably to four more during the first three and a half minutes. Later we see a rarity in Chaplin’s early films: a title card with a joke on it which is unrelated to the physical narrative. Finally there is even a one-word title card to identify a black steamy substance as “tar.” One senses that there were some nervous and intrusive money people on the movie lot in late 1919, and it’s often been speculated that Chaplin made this film quickly to relieve the pressure which was already building up over his next very-expensive project, The Kid (Jackie Coogan appears in A Day’s Pleasure and, like Edna Purviance, is used pretty much as a prop).

What does sparkle vividly in this little film are certain bits of stagelike business-Charlie’s sprightly dance with Edna on board the pleasure boat, some business with a trombonist, a leaning routine (with everyone’s feet stuck in “tar”), and, in the film’s wonderful opening section, a car-starting sequence right out of a vaudeville “flivver act” of the time. Uncharacteristically Chaplin seems to let some jokes interfere with others, what the old comics often called “putting a hat on a hat”; perhaps that’s why the deck-chair routine, set, as it is here, within a long sequence of seasickness jokes, isn’t as funny as the prop material in One A.M. When pushed to buy himself time, Chaplin turned to stage business and a proscenium. His next film, The Kid, replete with emotional music, fancy camera work and editing, is one of those works that can be said to herald, at least in American popular movies, the advent of something called filmic style. The master vaudevillian was becoming the master film auteur.

— Tony Safford

Screening Details

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