Airing on TCM November 24 at 8 PM EST, and also streaming for free on YouTube
“A Dog’s Life” was the first movie Charlie Chaplin made for First National Films and at his new studio, as well as the longest film he had made to date, clocking in at around 33 minutes. It was a big career move for Chaplin, who, as usual, wrote and directed the film as well as starring in it as his iconic Tramp. Chaplin took advantage of the longer running time to tell a well-plotted story, rather than just string along a series of gags.
That story finds the poor, unemployed Tramp saving a mutt from being attacked by other dogs. The Tramp calls the dog Scraps, and they struggle to survive together, while also saving a dance hall singer (played by Chaplin’s frequent leading lady Edna Purviance) from gangsters. The film is hilarious and includes numerous great gags from Chaplin, including one in which he continuously snatches biscuits from a food stand and stuffs them in his mouth, without the owner ever seeing. That food stand owner was played by Chaplin’s brother Syd, and this was the first time they appeared on screen together.
But Chaplin also used this film to explore other ways of telling a story, methods that he would later use in his feature films. He uses the dog as more than just a cute prop; throughout the film, Scraps appears to be placed in similar situations as the Tramp, and the two characters quickly become linked to each other. Often, all it takes is a quick cut from the Tramp to Scraps to show that they’re having the same issues. It’s a simple but brilliant way to strengthen the film, while touching on such social issues as poverty and homelessness adds another layer of depth beneath the comedy.
“A Dog’s Life” was Chaplin’s biggest hit to date, and his first movie to earn $1 million. As a result of its success, Chaplin was encouraged to try making longer films, leading up to his first feature, the 1921 masterpiece “The Kid”. His costar Mutt was not forgotten; Chaplin adopted him following filming on “A Dog’s Life”.
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