The ladies of silent comedy do not get nearly enough respect. When it comes to the funny stuff, it’s still very much a stag affair. Things are slowly changing. Marion Davies and Mabel Normand are enjoying revivals and Colleen Moore finally seems poised for a comeback. Since we seem to be in the mood, let’s throw some laurels to Edna Purviance, Charlie Chaplin’s best leading lady. Purviance wasn’t just “the girl” in his comedies. She got in on the funny stuff too and nowhere was it more apparent than in Chaplin’s wicked Burlesque on Carmen.
Above is Purviance doing her stuff. Below is Geraldine Farrar in the 1915 Cecil B. DeMille-directed original.
Availability: You can get both Carmen and Burlesque on Carmen packaged together a double feature from Image, which also includes DeMille’s other 1915 hit, The Cheat. Unfortunately, this disc is out-of-print. There is a standalone disc of Carmen, which is supposed to be very good quality but I have not seen it for myself. Burlesque on Carmen is available in a volume of the Chaplin’s Essanay Comedies series, also out-of-print.
I should also note that some versions of Burlesque are longer than others. This is one case where you need to seek out the shorter version. Essanay took the film from Chaplin and padded it out with rejected footage and completely new characters in order to release it as a short feature. Chaplin was horrified. I detail these shenanigans in my review.