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Slapstick at its Finest:

PAYDAY (1922) directed by Charlie Chaplin ONE WEEK (1920) directed by Buster Keaton and Edward Cline
The two movies I will be comparing are PAYDAY directed by Charlie Chaplin and ONE WEEK directed by Buster Keaton and Eddie Kline (?). This is not only a comparison of movies but it is the comparison of two directors in the silent era. While the former reached unparalleled fame in this era, the latter was left in the shadows. Thus, I wanted to compare their styles to render my own opinion on who is the frontrunner of slapstick comedy. In this essay, I will be comparing the plot, comedic styles, and directing and to ensure a fair comparison, the two movies are both from the 1920s and of a similar length approximately 20 minutes each. In Charlie Chaplins PAYDAY, the story revolves around a man as he goes through one day of his life from being at work to his activities at night. Throughout his day, the character faces numerous obstacles such as the train leaving him, his wife following him, and his lack of a lunch. Each time, Chaplin tries to find a way out but that sometimes results in further trouble and ensues more slapstick comedy. However, a notable aspect of the plot was the portrayal of the wife. She comes across as a shrew as she nags and scolds Chaplin for his various faux pas. At first, Chaplin tries to hide his money from her but she is already there and observes his attempt. Later, she catches him trying to evade going to work and, again she scolds him. In fact, the last scene of the movie is of her scolding Chaplin. Clearly, their marriage is not a happy one and Chaplin enforces some stereotypes of women and wives as being controlling and of the husband being at his wifes mercy. This portrayal does not translate into Buster Keatons ONE WEEK. In fact, Keaton portrays a loving relationship with lots of kisses shared between himself and his new bride. In

fact, throughout the main plot of the story of the new couple building their home, the couple tackles the whole endeavor together. Granted, along the way they are met with many obstacles and comedic opportunities that are characteristic of a slapstick film. However, a notable difference, at least in this film, is that Buster Keaton as the main character seems smarter than Chaplins main character. He has some ingenious ideas like trying to use a makeshift pulley to bring the piano into his home. Chaplin never makes his character as street smart. Furthermore, Chaplins whole persona is that of a confused and helpless victim as opposed to Keatons man who has met with many misfortunes. Though the two directors may differ in their plot lines, their comedic styles are quite similar. Both utilize slapstick quite well in these films. Chaplins PAYDAY has many instances of physical comedy such as bricks falling, Chaplin slipping and falling, missing the train, and having water dumped on him. Chaplin also tries to heighten the viewers laughter by making them anticipate the comedic event. Oftentimes, the viewer can predict what is going to happen before it does, thus making them anxious to see the actual event. Keaton also employs this tactic in ONE WEEK. He lets the viewer anticipate the physical comedy by making them anticipate such scenes as the piano and the pulley and the revolving house. Other comedic events in Keatons repertoire are falling down the ladder, falling out of the revolving house, and the piano falling on Keaton. Despite their similar comedic styles, however, Keaton and Chaplin are different directors especially when it comes to effects. Chaplin is simpler and sticks to simple effects such as falling and elevator, Keaton utilizes cars, trains, and a very inventive set. Chaplins greatest scene might be the brick laying scene where two workers are throwing bricks up at Chaplin and he catches them and lays it. While watching this, one can tell that it is a backwards shot, but nonetheless, it

adds to the film. Another great shot is the train shot where Chaplin is constantly running after the train in an attempt to get home. Though, Chaplin does use a train, it still pales in comparison to Keatons use of props and set pieces throughout ONE WEEK. In a great scene, Keaton actually has one foot on two moving cars. This shot is not only great because of the action but also because Keaton uses many angles to capture this scene such as the inside of the car and as it is moving. Even more impressive is Keatons train scene. As the poor beleaguered couple is moving their house to their actual lot, it gets stuck right on top of railroad tracks. The train narrowly misses the house and the couple breathes a sigh of relief. Just then, the train comes barreling back and smashes into the house, reducing it to rubble. From class, I know Keatons penchant for actually orchestrating such events for his movies, so this may have actually occurred. The house, now laid to waste, was a crucial part of the film and made for a great prop. Keaton used it cleverly throughout the movie with trick walls that rotated on its hinges, doors to the outside on the second floor, and a house that revolved on its base during the storm scene. Additional directorial devices of Keatons include close ups, moving shots, and wide shots. Keaton also utilizes censorship during a scene: the wife is bathing but she drops her soap. As she reaches out of the tub to grab it, a hand covers the lens so that the viewer cannot see the wife naked. Overall, Keaton is more inventive with scenes and props than Chaplin. He makes use of more complicated scenes that would require planning and execution but he pulls it off rather flawlessly. Lest I make it sound like Keaton is much more impressive than Chaplin, they do share some other similarities including weather and note-cards to depict the action. The former is just their use of rain to enhance the atmosphere of the scene but I wonder if they waited for a day that

was raining or if they used simulated the weather. The latter, the note-cards, were a standard at the time to ensure that the viewer is able to follow along with the movie. And follow along I did. Both movies were easy to understand and enjoy. Chaplin and Keaton, though both employed slapstick comedy, had different approaches in their plot and directing. For slapstick both use physical comedy and repetitiveness to increase anticipation of the actual incident. Their differences arose in plot where Chaplin showed a more negative view of marriage while Keatons was more loving. Chaplin also portrayed a simpler character and more nave than Keatons more capable and clever thinking character. This difference is similar to the respective directors, as well. Chaplin stuck to simpler effects and shots while Keaton used elaborate sets and props in his film. Overall, both directors produced fine films, but for me Keatons is more impressive simply because of it effects in his scenes. Even with 21st century effects, I can appreciate Keatons inventiveness.