Silent Movie Rule #33: Cover those bare shoulders, lest you frighten Mr. Chaplin!

Charlie Chaplin is the star but Edna Purviance is the real show-stopper in Burlesque on Carmen, a darling little spoof they made together at the Essanay studio. After Chaplin departed for greener pastures, the Essanay folks padded out the short with all sorts of nonsense (Chaplin sued) and it was only available in this bloated format for years.

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Hats off to Edna Purviance, wicked mimic! Animated GIF


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.


Good stuff!

(You can read my full-length review of Carmen here and my review of Burlesque on Carmen— complete with litigation and backstage gossip– right here.)

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.

The Immigrant (1917) A Silent Film Review

Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance play a pair of immigrants fresh off the boat who are trying to make a go of it in the United States. Their obstacles: Snotty waiters, thieving fellow passengers and a very large plate of beans. A delicate balance of humor, emotion and social commentary. One of Chaplin’s finest short films and one of his personal favorites.
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A Night in the Show (1915) A Silent Film Review

Charlie Chaplin was already wildly popular when he made this short for Essanay. Adapted from one of his pre-Hollywood comedy acts, this short has Chaplin play two disruptive and rowdy theater-goers: Mr. Pest, a drunken crumb from the upper crust, and Mr. Rowdy, an equally sloshed rough on the balcony. Between the two of them, they manage to disrupt and outshine the performers on the stage.
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