The Immigrant - Charlie Chaplin eating on board ship
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The Immigrant (1917) starring Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell

The Immigrant produced & directed by Charlie Chaplin. Starring Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell, Albert Austin, Henry Bergman

Synopsis of The Immigrant:

 The Immigrant is the story of Charlie the Little Tramp coming to America for the first time, fittingly enough on a “tramp” steamer. On the way, he meets fellow immigrant Edna Purviance who is taking care of her sickly mother.  Charlie fights seasickness and the ship’s rolling decks, nearly gets arrested for something he didn’t do, and nearly gets beaten up after eating a meal he can’t pay for.  But all ends happily ever after with Charlie and Edna gainfully employed and about to get married.

 review of The Immigrant

Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance in The ImmigrantOne of Charlie Chaplin’s greatest short films. It strikes me with a special feeling after the events of 9/11. It depicts Charlie Chaplin in his world-famous clown role of The Tramp coming to America on a boat.  On a Tramp steamer, of course.  The boat is overcrowded with other immigrants. On the voyage, Chaplin has fun with the rolling motion of the deck, from walking on board to eating soup. He also meets a pretty young lady (Edna Purviance), who is taking care of her sickly mother. Chaplin is falsely accused of stealing money on the boat but gets out of that predicament. There is a stirring scene as the boat nears the American shore, and they see the Statue of Liberty for the first time.  It chokes me up when I see it.
The Immigrant - Charlie Chaplin eating on board shipOn shore, Chaplin tries unsuccessfully to find work.  He’s broke (which is normal for The Tramp), but eventually, has a bit of luck.  He finds a coin on the ground. What luck! Now he can eat! He goes into a restaurant, and orders a meal, only to unknowingly lose his coin. He finds Edna in the same restaurant, weeping, with a black-laced handkerchief — her mother is nowhere in sight. The audience immediately realizes that her mother has died.  A wonderful example of the power of the silent movie to communicate. The Tramp invites her over and tries to cheer her up. Suddenly, the head waiter (played by the recurring heavy, Eric Campbell) starts to beat up (in a comical, almost cartoonish style) a customer who is a penny short. Chaplin checks for his coin, only to realize that it’s gone.
After several moments of hilarity, as Chaplin realizes his condition and the head waiter comes over with his check, all is made right.  An artist (Henry Bergman) hires them both as models.  They pay their check, leave, and get married, to live, of course, happily ever after.
I rate it 5 clowns on a 5-clown scale.
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Trivia for Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant

  • According to Kevin Brownlow and David Gill’s documentary series Unknown Chaplin, the first scenes to be written and filmed take place in what became the movie’s second half, in which the penniless Tramp finds a coin and goes for a meal in a restaurant, not realizing that the coin has fallen out of his pocket. It was not until later that Chaplin decided the reason the Tramp was penniless was that he had just arrived on a boat from Europe, and used this notion as the basis for the first half. Purviance reportedly was required to eat so many plates of beans during the many takes to complete the restaurant sequence that she became physically ill.
  • The scene in which Chaplin’s character kicks an immigration officer was cited later as evidence of his anti-Americanism when he was denied re-entry to the United States in the 1950s.

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