It's my first Charlie Chaplin film. (I have probably inaccurate memories of seeing a Chaplin long ago, set in the old West and ending with him running away from a church, but I don't think I saw that from the beginning.) I've seen tons of Harold Lloyd and Laurel & Hardy, but Chaplin and Keaton are gaping holes in my education.
This is Chaplin's fourth film for First National Films (1918-1923) and according to wikipedia it's "almost universally regarded" as the worst film he made for them. It was a two-reel quickie that he knocked off to fill a gap while working on The Kid, his first feature film. Personally, I enjoyed it and it made me want to watch more Chaplin, but it has an episodic non-story with almost no one you'd call a character except Chaplin himself and it's not particularly funny.
The lack of any other characters is the film's biggest problem, I think. Lots of actors, but no characters. The screen is always busy, but Chaplin's most memorable co-stars are inanimate objects (a car that won't start, a deckchair, a trombone, a tar pit). There are lots of other actors, but they don't really come across... no, wait, I tell a lie. I detected personality in that big bloke who steals Chaplin's seat on the cruise ship, even if he's not around for long. Otherwise, though, there's not much. Angry Little Man in Street is angry and that's it. Edna Purviance gets so little to do as Chaplin's wife that I started wondering if the film had forgotten about her. Jackie Coogan plays one of their children and he's essentially an extra.
This character void around him is forcing Chaplin to perform on his own. This is a handicap. There's a reason why "double act" is a standard unit of comedy all around the world. However that said, he's still good. I liked him. He's endearing, with a childish screen persona. One of the film's funniest bits is the running gag of Chaplin disposing of anything that's annoying him by throwing it into the sea. He's also like a badly behaved eight-year-old in the way he gets into fights.
So far, it seems to me that Chaplin's like Laurel and Hardy. The appeal of all three is the childish behaviour of the characters they're playing, rather than the stunts of people like Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and less remembered figures like Larry Semon. (Also all three wear bowler hats.) However I wouldn't choose this film if I wanted to show silent comedy to an actual child.
Specific stuff in this film:
(a) The sticky tar sequence is wonderful to watch, regardless of whether or not it's funny.
(b) I enjoyed the jig-jig-jigging of everyone in the jalopy whenever it started up.
(c) There's a four-man band of black musicians on the boat. This made me nervous, given Hollywood's track record at the time for the sympathetic portrayal of black people, but fortunately it managed not to be painful. I could have lived without the drummer drumming everything in sight, but Chaplin's scene with the trombonist made me laugh.
I'm not wild about the fact that it's an unconnected bunch of episodes that go nowhere, but what the hell. It's 1919. The upside of feeling like a bunch of offcut ideas glued together into 17 minutes is that one gets lots of ideas. Impressively this film was written, directed, produced by, starring and with original music by Chaplin. You've got to admire the guy's work ethic, but the "written by" credit would have had more weight had the screenplay been worth tuppence. It's still fun to watch, though. Chaplin's charm holds it together, and it's capable of being amusing.
I heard some people on the internet say that there was a 1929 Laurel & Hardy talkie version of this, Perfect Day
. I watched that too, but those people were wrong and the two films are nothing alike.