Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Doozy #5: Cleaning Up His Act: Charley Chase

100 posts in this topic

1. I really wanted to say that this was slapstick, but it is a stretch to consider the squirting water gag as violence. It is comedic, but I did not feel an urge to laugh out loud. I agree that Chase gets exasperated, and there is evidence of exaggeration, physicality, repitition, and make-believe. But there is not enough violence.

 

2. Chase's exasperation and slow burn are quite evident, confirming Mast's statement. I can see how the exasperated look might be Chase's trademark in the same way that Edgar Kennedy mastered the slow burn. However, I really did not feel sympathetic towards Chase. I always found myself cheering for Lloyd, Keaton, and Chaplin. I did not feel like I was a part of Chase's exasperation.

 

3. If we look at a limited period of the evolution of sound (dialogue, music, sound effects, etc.) from the silent period to the early talkies, I observed that the sound in this clip was more of a distraction than an enhancement. When viewing Laurel and Hardy or The Three Stooges, dialogue is used to set up a gag or violence. Further, sound effects, whether acted or added, made the slapstick real for L&H and the Stooges. Here, with Chase, we had dialogue with poor audio quality, and it detracted from my impression of the clip.

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This is my first time seeing a Charley Chase clip. The slapstick was subtle because there was no violence. The part with the perfume and getting it just right was a ritual because he'd keep sticking in money and would miss his mouth. The background music was a Hal Roach thing like he uses in Laurel and Hardy and the Little Rascals. There wasn't much talking when he would shave but that was pretty good. He was brave to do that in public. His face was fun to watch with seeing Thelma Todd and then the other woman.

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I would like to center my response on the term, repetitious, as it aligns precisely with this particular slapstick film clip. Charley makes use of a machine in attempts to rid himself of odorous, garlic breath. This setup is easily predictable, as we witness a woman dabbing herself with a cloth after having used the machine with success. Queue Charley. Both of his efforts immediately go awry as the liquid squirts into each of his eyes. And suddenly, Aha! Charley "cleverly" decides to position himself in which his eye will supposedly be the machine's intended target. And what do you know? The machine performs a perfect trajectory; a direct shot of liquid straight into his mouth.

This type of repetitious nature will typically always include some level of physicality. Although, this clip doesn't employ too much physical involvement. The water in the face moment is a rather benign form of slapstick comedy, as evidenced in L'Arroseur Arrosé.

In addressing Charley's greatest emotion being exasperation, I am in total agrreance. However, I would redefine this phrase with addition- "self-inflicted exasperation." Charley purposely ate garlic to sabotage his own date. The dreadful exasperation was summoned via his own volition, which poses many questions of a possible self-deprecating slapstick comedic routine.

The best phrase I can use in regards to film's "from silent to talkie era" is: Transitional period indeed. The music in this clip is absolutely unnecessary, utterly misplaced. Its loop-like playback detracts from the characters' dialogue, gag setup(s) and subsequent execution(s). The Pip from Pittsburgh can't decide if it wants to be a talkie or a silent film.

The narrative's gags felt heavily cheapened, reductive, in fact. It's as though quality storytelling was traded to roll in the era of sound. I (nearly) felt insulted by Charley breaking the fourth wall. He directed the audience into the gag, setting it up with the assumption we actually needed the instruction. Possibly the audiences of the bygone decades required such assistance? Doubt it. For the sake of everyone involved- I implore artists to never underestimate the intelligence of their audience(s). It's highly off-putting.

*As I'm aware of a transitional period being a possible trying time for an industry, it's difficult to understand how and why this film seemingly necessitates the notion audiences need this "extra" kind of direction. Maybe I'm over analyzing this clip, as I'm by no means familiar with comedy films during the silent to sound era. Nonetheless, I'm here to learn.

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Watching this clip of film for the first time, I thought was hilarious as I have seen this type of comedic action in other places. What continues to make it funny is that I pretty much know what is going to happen, but I watch it anyway. Sort of like the woman in a dark house at night who hears noises in the basement and instead of turning on all the lights or calling for help, she goes to investigate in a night gown and one candle. anyway funny scene.

 

after I wrote this post I was able to watch the complete version of the film. It was even better. As everything starts he has a misguided understanding of who he is supposed to date, and when she arrives he figures it out and at the dance and action tries to correct the problem with the scented water and shaving amoungst all those people. it seems to me that the slapstick starts very subtly and then increases in intensity. It happens when he hits his date with the lunch basket which wasn't hers and then moves on to the changing of the suit with the lights on and off ending that part with the elastic band and the punch. Then we continue to the gum machine and everyone falling all over the place, when finnally they fall out the window into a pond of white gu. So the slapstick comedy begins with a purr then heightens to a peak and finally ends with the happy ever after smiles. 

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1. How well do the slapstick elements of this clip match up with the five conditions of slapstick proposed in Module 1 (exaggerated, physical, repetitive/ritualistic, make-believe, painful/violent)?

I think this clip from The Pip from Pittsburgh matches the first four of five conditions of slapstick beautifully. Charley Chase definitely exploits the materials around him and exaggerates their use to the nth degree. His comedy is physical, the perfume gag is repetitive (it’s a variation on the carnation in the lapel that squirts), and the situation seems completely make-believe to me. But painful and/or violent? Not for me. And the make-believe was stretched too thin for me when Chase sees his reflection in another customer’s suit. Did anyone at any time really believe that gag?

2. Do you find the clip confirming or challenging Gerald Mast’s description of Charley Chase? Even in a short clip, do you get the sense that his greatest emotion is “exasperation”?

I get the sense that Charley Chase teeters between exasperation and self-satisfaction: He’s continually irritated by events around him, but he’s very satisfied that he resolves each one in his own way. He is easily exasperated by other people, which cannot be said of Harold Lloyd. In Lloyd’s films, other people are usually exasperated with Lloyd. I am thinking particularly of his stint as a cab driver in Speedy. Babe Ruth to Speedy: “If I want to commit suicide I’ll call you.”

3. As an early talkie that is transitioning from the “silent film era,” how well do you think this scene uses synchronous sound and music in the construction of its gags?

I’m not sure that all the technical and creative bugs were worked out quite yet. Instead of making certain plot details known via conversation or other methods, the actors occasionally addressed the audience/camera directly by making eye contact. (Were microphones completely stationary in the 1930s?) Thelma Todd, for example, lets the audience know that she knows what Charley Chase is up to by smiling coyly for the camera, whereas today, the narrative would likely take care of that. Todd and the audience are in on the gag, but not Chase. Hmm. That makes me think that Charley Chase is also self-centered: He’s completely unaware of people and their feelings and reactions, although he, too, is aware of the audience and the camera. That makes his gags funny, but it doesn’t help his likability quotient.

By this time "boom" mikes were being introduced but most mics were still stationary. Sound effects, in terms of off stage additions to sound, were also minimal because of the limitations of sound technology. They didn't have multi-track recording systems as we do today. What showed up on the mic was what was happening on the set, usually. Dubbing came later in the 1930s.
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The slapstick elements of Charley Chase’s scene in the Hal Roach comedy “The Pip From Pittsburgh” that are represented include physical (when his face is being  squirted after he inserts a coin, exaggerated (his facial mannerisms throughout the clip), make believe (when he is looking at a mirrored image of himself on another man’s jacket when shaving his face).   The only painful element would be when he was squirted in the face.

 

I feel that Gerald Mast’s description of Charley Chase, and that his greatest emotion (in his filmed comedies and shorts) that his greatest strength on the silver screen was exasperation (his facial mannerisms and reactions to the gags and being a loudmouth when speaking to others).

 

In this early Hal Roach talkie, I feel that the synchronous dialogue and sound effects were used well, since this was a staple of most Hal Roach short comedies in the early years of sound pictures (especially in Laurel & Hardy’s shorts for Roach, along with Charley Chase’s).  

 

Looking forward to tonight's lineup of classic slapstick (including Hal Roach comedies and "A Night At The Opera" with the Marx Brothers)!

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Charley Chase can't catch a break, and he mugs every time the world betrays him as if to say to the audience, "Do ya see what I gotta put up with?" That nod to the viewer can be universally appreciated by everyone in their daily struggles. The perfume machine in this clip exemplifies slapstick as it seems to have a mind of its own, and that brain has a singular mission: screw up Charley's chances.

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First time seeing Charley Chase

 

The comedy does match the criteria for slapstick, but it is not as extreme as we saw in the silents.

We see exaggeration in the reactions to the squirting water, and in the body language when the Pip comes up to Chase. This exaggeration also includes exaggeration of sound, in the Pip's highly flighty talk and Chase saying 'Amy McPhoison'. We also see the exaggeration in the beginning as Chase tries to talk sideways so as not to show her his breath.

It's physical - the squirting water, the shaving scene - but still not as extreme as we might see in a Chaplin short. We would expect a bigger reaction to the water squirt from Chaplin.

The water gag is repetitive, shaving is ritualistic - taking something we do every day but putting it into a weird situation.

Make believe is the water that always seems to hit his eye, not his mouth, until he tries to get it in his eye knowing it will then hit his mouth. This is almost breaking the 4th wall. Chase is telling us he knows it's a gag, but he can outwit it.

As for violence, the squirting water is the closest we get.

 

I think chase does have an element of exasperation. The whole scene is in a larger sense. 'How can i clean myself up?'

 

Sound is used comically in a few ways. The 'squirt' sound of the water, the funny way of talking and saying 'McPhoison' instead of 'McPherson'. Music had little to do. It was just there in the background.

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Charley Chase was a slapstick actor I was not familiar with so it was fun to see the clip Pip From Pittsburgh.

 

1. Chase embodies each of the five elements of slapstick:  exaggerated, physical, ritualistic, make believe, and violent. From his expressions while he's shaving to the painful sprays to the eye, Chase shows the range of slapstick even in a small clip.

 

2. I find this clip to confirm Gerald Mast's assertion that Chase's greatest emotion is exasperation. After a few of his attempts to clean up fail, Chase nearly breaks the fourth wall as if to say to the viewer "Can't something just go right?" In quintessential slapstick form, however, Chase perseveres and eventually accomplishes what he set out to do, no matter how unconventional the methods are. 

 

3. One can tell that this Chase clip is an early talkie, while the medium was still transitioning to sound films, the clip isn't hurt by this fact, however. The sound and action is mostly synchronized with the sound playing a pivotal role in the action, as it had in the silent gags, as well. 

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Chase's comedy is rooted in embarrassment and frustration, punctuated by imaginative and off-the-wall problem solving that invariably backfires. He incorporates all five basic tenets of slapstick with perhaps less emphasis on violence. It's a situational form of slapstick more closely related to Lloyd without the stunts. In this respect, i believe Mast got it right.

While Chase was one of the great creators of film comedy, it's a pity that he never developed a more endearing screen personae. His silents from the mid to late twenties are superior to his talkies, where for some reason he felt he had to fall back on an unnecessarily goofy laugh. Getting back to this particular clip, the use of sound and incidental music are pleasantly non intrusive to what is basically a silent routine.

 

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1. How well do the slapstick elements of this clip match up with the five conditions of slapstick proposed in Module 1 (exaggerated, physical, repetitive/ritualistic, make believe, painful/violent)?

 

I see pain when he gets sprayed in the eye: here the leading man must suffer so we can laugh. There is exaggeration (when he talks closely to a guy top test if his breath is fresh), physical and repetitive comedy (the scented water bit) and make believe (in real world he’d find trouble in any stages of his impromptu shaving).

 

2. Do you find the clip confirming or challenging Gerald Mast's description of Charley Chase? Even in a short clip, do you get the sense that his greatest emotion is "exasperation?"

 

Yes, I do. He particularly shows exasperation when he can’t get the scented water to go to his mouth and not his eyes, and also when he meets the “Pip from Pittsburgh” and plans to get rid of her.

 

3. As an early talkie that is transitioning from the "silent film era," how well do you think this scene uses synchronous sound and music in the construction of its gags?

 

I think this film could have worked as a fun silent – the jokes are visual, they don’t need sound nor dialog to be funny. The soundtrack doesn’t add to the fun, and there are few, if any, jokes that rely on dialog. We must remember that the Marx brothers’ The Cocoanut was released in 1929 and a lot of jokes rely on dialog – but the Marxes came from the stage, and Chase had a long history doing silents.

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1.  I see the pain and the frustration that he is going through because of the what he thought the date looked like and the reality of her appearance.  He also goes through pain with the water shooting at him as well as having to deal with a woman that he's not interested in at all. So you see him coming up with very inventive ways to solve the situation that he got himself into.  The exaggeration of having one woman look for a lunch from another woman shows also a sense of make/believe.

 

2. I agree that he truly exhibits exasperation. He just can't believe how things are progressing-yet he finds a way around every issue.

 

3.  I think it does a nice job with sound and music, but you can also sense that they don't know how to handle the full aspects of sound and gags.

 

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This does meet the 5 criteria of slapstick with exaggeration being the most prevalent. The one element seems to lace is the painful/violent. Unless if you call what Chase is going through is emotional painful. The story is definitely make believe and there was repetitive gags.

 

Yes this confirms Mast's description of Chase's exasperation. This is evident when Chase shows it to others around him and also while he is grooming.

 

You can tell this is an early attempt with sound and visual gags. It doesn't quite sync up and appears to be forces at times. You find better examples with Laural and Hardy and the Marx Brothers.

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Considering Question 3, the music, I needed to look at the clip twice, because the first time I hardly noticed the music. But upon consideration, especially considering the novelty of sound at that time, I think that the sound is actually fairly complex, if somewhat ordinary. The first music is non-descript piano bar music, giving the sense of a quietly posh environment, in which Charley's dishevelment stands out like a sore thumb. Later the music becomes a little more rinky-tink, highlighting his comedy maneuvers. The man reading the newspaper is kinda brilliant, really. The rustle of the newspaper is a subtle way of just hearing something (like the bacon frying mentioned by Wes Gehring that elicited shock and awe in the viewers), and then the reading of the tax instructions is a perfect drone accompaniment to the shaving shenanigans. Whereas you might expect the shaving to make some kind of noise, in fact, that sound wasn't miked at all, intensifying our impression that Charley's actions are completely covered. Also, in one dialogue portion, there is no background music at all, just the two speakers, again, focusing us on what they are saying. All very thoughtful. This past weekend I had the opportunity to view a screening of the 1921 silent film of Asta Nielsen's Hamlet at the National Gallery of Art in D.C., accompanied by a score newly commissioned from Dennis James, who has become well known for his presentations of silent era music. His remarks in the Q & A following echoed so many of the ideas we've been talking about here -- how important it was to identify not only where you would put music, but where you would play Silence. I think this clip actually shows that directors were really thinking about how to orchestrate sound, and it must have been fun to have that kind of control, even if it's hardly noticeable to us now.

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The film is staged in the tradition of vaudeville/silent slapstick.  The film even opens with the traditional “titles” used in silent films.  However the comedians now have the added advantage of using conspicuous verbal sarcasm and, for added levity, recorded background music.  The comedy is centered on Chase’s desperate efforts to clean up after he fouls up and tries to make himself smell and look awful for what he anticipates will be a disappointing date  (that Todd is on to him makes him look even more ridiculous and adds an element of playfulness).  What follows is a series of vain attempts by Chase to groom himself and reclaim his suit (using the entire stage and  every prop within his reach) with the usual anarchy, blunders, mishaps, and falls (although appears less “aggressive”).  The water dispenser and shaving sequences reflect the slapstick elements early on. The film also notably uses darkness (turning lights out) and dance to heighten the humor.

 Chase frequently expresses his frustrations throughout the story and as soon as we begin to hear a variation in background music the audience is primed for the shift to physical comedy.  When the action dies down and the narrative resumes, Chase returns to his ornery /contrarian self (a real “pip” himself in the negative context).  The background music reverts to a silly/ lighthearted and repetitive tune (reminded me of the background music in the Our Gang shorts). 

Chase's character is generally cranky and easily frustrated.  Despite his difficult nature, Todd finds him charming and it didn’t escape me that frequently during his gags Chase appears to look to the audience for affirmation.  He might as well have smiled and winked at the audience directly.

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I had never seen before a film of Charley Chase. In this clip I find the five elements of the slapstick more diffuse, more subtle -only the scene of the water implies repetition- and the violence is minimal.  I agree with the interpretation of Gerald Mast, especially if we compare it with the sympathy that Lloyd deploys. Regarding new resources given by the incorporation of sound, I think that a good contribution is reading aloud from the newspaper, as a background while Chase is shaved.I had never seen before a film of Charley Chase. In this clip I find the five elements of the slapstick more diffuse, more subtle -only the scene of the water implies repetition- and the violence is minimal.  I agree with the interpretation of Gerald Mast, especially if we compare it with the sympathy that Lloyd deploys. Regarding new resources given by the incorporation of sound, I think that a good contribution is reading aloud from the newspaper, as a background while Chase is shaved.

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I must say I've never seen Charley Chase before but now I'd like to see more of his movies.  In the early days the slapstick was usually crazy over the top, but this felt more subtle and 'real'.  And they were really using sound to their advantage, it's hard to get the tone of sarcasm from just words on the screen.  Chase portrays a sympathetic/empathetic character and I do agree on the notion of expression exasperation very well!

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Questions: 

1. How well do the slapstick elements of this clip match up with the five conditions of slapstick proposed in Module 1 (exaggerated, physical, repetitive/ritualistic, make believe, painful/violent)? I don't think it is necessarily painful, but is both physical (with the movements with the rosewater and not hitting the mark right, shaving at a dance, trying to get his suit back from his friend) and exaggerated (from his actions with the old girlfriend, and the mirror in the suitback). He went to get rosewater five times so is repetitive. The make believe is the situation he finds himself - getting cleaned up for a date on the fly.

 

 

2. Do you find the clip confirming or challenging Gerald Mast's description of Charley Chase? Even in a short clip, do you get the sense that his greatest emotion is "exasperation?" Not necessarily, as he showed when he was pleased with himself, but i would say the other descriptors of Chase by Mast were accurate. I would also agree he gets exasperated.

 

 

3. As an early talkie that is transitioning from the "silent film era," how well do you think this scene uses synchronous sound and music in the construction of its gags? I feel the music does enhance the gag and enlivens the situational awareness of the stunts in the scenes. It punctuates the physicality of the gags, more so than in the silent era.

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I think the slapstick elements in this clip match with the conditions of slapstick.  Charlie has very exaggerated expressions, especially when he realizes that Pip from Pittsburgh is standing behind him.  He has physical interactions with the rosewater dispenser which could also qualify as painful with the shot in the eye.  Charlie's facial expressions are repetitive during the clip, and the idea of shaving in a department store, using a man reading the newspaper aloud as a screen is absurd and make-believe.

 

The clip supports Mast's description of Chase.  Through the use of facial expressions, Chase shows his crankiness and the exasperation as he deals with the rosewater dispenser and when the girl he is not expecting shows up behind him.

 

I don't think the clip uses music along with the gags.  It seems that there is just a single piece of music playing throughout the clip, similar to the way that a pianist would play in a theater with a silent film in the background.  The sound is synced to some of the gags, such as the spritz of the water dispenser, and the man reading the newspaper in a dull voice to accompany the article about simplifying income tax returns.

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1. How well do the slapstick elements of this clip match up with the five conditions of slapstick proposed in Module 1 (exaggerated, physical, repetitive/ritualistic, make believe, painful/violent)?

 

I believe this clip meets at least 4 of the 5 conditions, unless you count using an old school razor as violent? We see the repetition of the rose water perfume spray hitting Charley's face instead of his mouth (which, if it's perfume, you're not supposed to put any in your mouth, right) I believe the water hit him at least 4-5 times. It was physical as we see him trying to do all he can on the spot to get ready for a date with an attractive woman. Although, the other lady tried to get him to dance with her, he tried to escape her grasp, followed by a fist made once he tells her to go to the lunch boxes. I can see that as physical and almost bordering on violent. The exaggerated way of slapstick was shown as he tried to shave his face using the gentlemen's coat as a mirror as if it was so shiny, he could use it to shave. I agree with Schlinged on the make believe...who actually prepares for a date on the spot like that? Contrary to popular belief, it does take guys a little bit of time to get ready. Also, another make believe has to be drinking the rose water perfume. Who does that?

 

 

2. Do you find the clip confirming or challenging Gerald Mast's description of Charley Chase? Even in a short clip, do you get the sense that his greatest emotion is "exasperation?"

 

I see this clip doing both. He's constantly frustrated with having to find unique ways to clean himself up, but he's very creative on making it work in his favor. Plus, everyone that gets in his way of getting ready on the spot is also frustrating.

 

3. As an early talkie that is transitioning from the "silent film era," how well do you think this scene uses synchronous sound and music in the construction of its gags?

 

I think it does very well, especially with the perfume box. Each time it spits out perfume, the sound effect is spot on, and there is no delay between lines spoken and the music in the background.

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      While the five elements were not all displayed in the clip, they were present in the full short.  I agree with the others who mentioned that this clip showed only repetition (with the perfume spray) and make-believe & exaggeration (with the reflection in the shiny suit).  Attributing the remaining traits seems forced to me.  Physical action was limited, and violence was only slightly implied in the clenched-fist response to "the pip" (even this seems a stretch).  

 

      While exasperation was present, I'm not convinced that this clip showed it as his defining characteristic.  I think that Dollar Dizzy (1930) makes a better case for this argument.  Even here, his exasperation pales in comparison to the "slow burn" of Edgar Kennedy during the same period.

 

      The use of sound in this transitional period placed limitations on the action.  This clip shows how the advent of sound changed the nature of films and requirements of actors. As was discussed earlier, the hallmark of silent comedy was motion & action with the actor as athlete. With the transition to sound, comedies changed for both technological and artistic reasons.  The hallmark of talkies was sound & dialogue, not motion & action, and talking actors did not need to be athletes. The primitive sound recording equipment of the transitional period resulted in many more interior shots where dialogue could be picked up and extraneous noises minimized.  As a result, the action was less energetic than it had been before sound. The gag most reflective of this changing standard was the use of the newspaper to cover his shaving.  While the visual part of this gag would have worked in the silent era, the comedy was heightened by the content of the article -- an absurdly complex explanation of how to fill out an income tax form.     

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I'd never noticed Charley Chase before. He's not nearly as appealing as Harold Lloyd, or anybody we've watched so far. He's just kind of annoyed all the time. He's better as the conventioneer in Sons of the Desert (in which he's not as important as Mae Busch, btw, and gets higher billing on imdb).

 

I've always wondered when movie makers switched from running the same music through a whole film regardless of what's onscreen to making the music fall and rise with the action. Anybody have any good info?

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Let me say Thank you Richard Edwards for this daily dose. As someone who thought they knew every classic actor and actress... How did miss Charley Chase. He is hilarious and now I have someone new to search movies for. I knew about Thelma Todd and I always find it funny that they would use her real name in shorts. I can tell its a short in between silent and sound. First because of that ongoing background music and the cards they use that mimic the silents. Part of the film was surreal and oddly funny like when Charley used the back of a mans coat for a mirror. Thanks for finding something new in old movies

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