Short Film of the Day: ‘The Immigrant’

March 27, 2020

If you’re new to Charlie Chaplin, this short romantic comedy from 1917 isn’t necessarily the best place to start. It might be wiser to start with The Kid (1921) and work your way through Chaplin’s other classic feature films. But The Immigrant remains one of his most popular early shorts thanks to its humor, staging (especially the physical comedy of the scenes at sea), the touching romance (the final scene’s reluctant bride notwithstanding) and its social commentary. There was no one quite like the Little Tramp.

Though the storytelling and structure aren’t as complex as in his later films, let’s remember that Chaplin — who was by this time in charge of almost every aspect of his films’ production — had arrived in Hollywood from England just four years prior, with essentially no knowledge of filmmaking. In three short years, he had gone from an unknown to the greatest star of motion pictures and arguably the most recognizable face in the world. (Also worth noting is the fact that the world’s first feature-length comedy (more than 40 minutes) had been released just three years before this. It was Tillie’s Punctured Romance. Its star? Chaplin, of course.)

This recent restoration of The Immigrant is superb, though I’ve never been a fan of recreated credits and intertitles. And I would have loved to hear what Chaplin himself might have composed for this film. (In addition to writing, directing, producing and starring in almost all his movies, he wrote the music to all his features and many of his shorts — several of them retroactively, following the introduction of synchronized sound). Still, this is a thoroughly pleasing presentation of a classic that is now 103 years old.

For more on the film, see Wikipedia. And for more on the restoration, visit SilentEra.com.