One of the most famous of all silent comedies and a perfect example of the genre to show people who know nothing about it, The Pawnshop is a loose yet deft blend of traditional Keystone-style slapstick, old musical hall bits, throwaway sight gags and playful Chaplin moments, without a hint of the pathos he was working towards in films like The Vagabond and The Immigrant.
The film is held together by a running gag in which Charlie and fellow pawnshop worker John Rand break into fist fights whenever they are within three feet of each other. The fights, which also feature some swift kicks, have a tendency to kickstart the film every few minutes before it once again settles down into another comedy setpiece with Charlie and Edna or Charlie and various customers. The most famous of these setpieces is the one pictured above in which Albert Austin brings in a clock for what he hopes is a quick couple of bucks, and Charlie puts it through ever manner of inappropriate test, including gutting the insides, before rejecting it as no good. Like several other of my favorite comedians (Buster Keaton and Oliver Hardy come to mind), Chaplin could get laughs with the simplest of looks, such as when he smells the inside of the gutted clock and then looks at Austin suspiciously. Just what did he smell inside that clock? We'll never know. It's one of Chaplin's best bits of solo pantomime and one I like considerably more than his shoe-eating or dinner roll dancing in THE GOLD RUSH. Rather than being precious and precocious (as I find the dinner roll dance especially), it's just plain funny.
The great Henri Bergman makes his debut with
Chaplin, as the pawnshop owner. A versatile performer (he has no
qualms about dressing as a woman, which he does in other Chaplin films
such as The Rink), Bergman
would become one of Chaplin's closest advisors. ½ - JB