Here's a typical Keystone "park" comedy, a spontaneous romp that looks like it was filmed in a few hours. In the lead role there's a cocky little guy named Chaplin with a mustache and funny clothes, swinging his cane as he rounds a corner. In support, we find a pretty girl accompanied by a belligerent escort, a gorgon-like wife, and a cartoon-y bartender at a nearby saloon. Our characters flirt on park benches, money is stolen, beer is quaffed, fights break out, and, finally, a cop gets involved. It's all very familiar to silent comedy buffs, but in one respect there's something atypical in the mix: THIS Chaplin isn't Charlie, it's his older brother Syd.
In boyhood days Syd had been the first of the two to become a performer. Once he was established, he got Charlie a stage job with the Karno comedy troupe. Charlie, in turn, repaid the favor by getting Syd his first movie job with Mack Sennett's Keystone studio. Syd was hired towards the end of 1914, just as Charlie was on his way out the door, so to speak. After Charlie went off to greater fame and fortune at Essanay, Syd continued making short comedies for Keystone very much like the ones Charlie had been cranking out, with the same co-stars and crew.
Caught in a Park is a typical entry for Syd, who is decked out in the costume he would wear in most of his Keystone shorts: homburg hat, hair center-parted, and an upturned mustache like Kaiser Wilhelm. Oh, and he also wears over-sized buttocks under his pants. You can't help but notice them. This character would become known as Reginald Gussle, although the name isn't used in this short. Here, Syd is described only as a "sporty husband." He's stuck with a large homely wife (Phyllis Allen) who snoozes on a bench, while Syd fidgets and dreams of a nice cold mug of beer. Seeing as how the Missus is asleep, hubby borrows some of her money and slips away to the nearest pub. On the way he encounters another mismatched couple: pretty blonde Cecile Arnold, saddled with sour Slim Summerville. Almost immediately, the guys are fighting. When Syd aims his enormous butt in Slim's face and waggles it, Slim, of course, kicks it. (Funny moment: instead of responding in kind, Syd primly counts to ten, then delivers a defiant "Nyaaaah!") A cease-fire is declared, and Syd proceeds to the saloon. After consuming his beer, he deftly manages to 1) retrieve his dollar from the cash register, and 2) convince bartender Mack Swain that Slim was the guilty party. Syd returns to the park and resumes his dalliance with the blonde. (Nice moment: Syd and Cecile exchange flirty looks through a hole torn in a newspaper, in a routine reminiscent of Max Linder.) Needless to say, hostilities break out between the guys once again, and soon our four principle players are duking it out with vigor.
That's the general outline, such as it is. For me, this particular romp in the park doesn't hold up especially well. It looks as if the performers were not terribly inspired, and after a while simply relied on punching, kicking, and flailing to keep things moving. We wait in vain for those memorable moments, the funny little bits that stand out, which we usually get from Roscoe, Mabel, Ford Sterling, or Syd's kid brother. But I wouldn't judge Syd too harshly on account of Caught in a Park; he comes off better, elsewhere. For that matter, I seriously doubt that the participants in these lightweight, free-wheeling comedies imagined anyone would still be viewing them and weighing their merits, one hundred years on!
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