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A Busy Day
IMDB Rating: 5.0/10 from votes
Release: 7 May 1914 (USA) /

A Busy Day

Genre: Comedy, Short
Director:
Stars: ,
Synopsis: Charlie plays a woman, jealous over her husband's interest in another woman. She gets in the way of a cameraman, knocks over a director and a policeman, and gets thrown into a crowd of spectators at a military parade. She attacks her husband and his new flame. The husband throws her off the pier into the harbor. Written by Ed Stephan <[email protected]>

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Critic Reviews


'A Busy Day' is proof of something I've often maintained: namely, that no so-called 'lost' film should ever be considered truly lost unless it was deliberately destroyed. 'A Busy Day' was unavailable for many decades, and was generally assumed to be lost ... until an acetate-stock dupe print (intended for home-movie exhibition) was discovered in 1970; the movie is now widely available on video.

'A Busy Day' was made by Mack Sennett's Keystone studio, and even by that studio's slapdash methods this was a cursory effort. It ran only about 5 minutes. Cinema projectionists' reels run about 10 minutes; to make up the difference, Sennett purchased an educational film from an outside source ... releasing the two unrelated subjects as a single 'split-reel'.

'A Busy Day' is also a good example of Keystone's guerrilla filmmaking techniques. Sennett and his crews would often take advantage of some local event, placing their actors (in costume) in front of this so as to co-opt the event as background for the actors' slapstick antics. When a military band performed its manoeuvres near Venice, California, the Keystone gang ad-libbed this movie at the edge of the parade grounds ... using the musicians as a backdrop.

This movie features Keystone's mushroom-faced comedian Mack Swain ... but without the bushy moustache he usually wore in his 'Ambrose' characterisation. Swain is teamed here with Charlie Chaplin, in the role of (wait for it) Swain's wife!

Cross-gender casting was fairly common in silent films ... usually employed when a female character had to endure some rough stuff, so a male 'actress' was cast. In two other films ('The Masquerader' and 'A Woman'), Chaplin - a small, graceful actor with delicate features - played a man who dons female disguise: in both cases, he looked quite passable as a *beautiful* woman. (On at least one occasion offscreen, Chaplin wore female disguise in public, without being detected, so as to escape from some overly zealous fans.) In 'A Busy Day', for the only time in his screen career, Chaplin played a biological woman ... so, it's intriguing that 'she' has no sex appeal at all. This woman is a pantomime dame, like Widow Twanky or Monty Python's pepperpot women. She shrieks, she leaps into the air, she blows her nose on her long skirt and beats her husband with an umbrella.

Because Chaplin stars in 'A Busy Day', it is often assumed that he also directed this film. That is almost certainly incorrect. Chaplin's personal archives in Vevey did not include a print of this film, indicating that he did not care to own a copy ... and that he had probably participated in 'A Busy Day' only as an actor for hire, rather than as scenarist or director. Surviving records from Sennett's studio indicate that this film was probably directed by George Nichols, a general factotum at Keystone whose best talents were managerial.

There is some clever editing work in this movie, of a type that I call 'modular' filmmaking. Two different camera set-ups are used for a sequence in which Chaplin's female character is tossed back and forth by two men. The two set-ups function as two separate modules, or even two separate movies running simultaneously, with Chaplin tossed back and forth between them. The effect is amusing, but I suspect that it was born of necessity ... to make two separate locations look as if they were geographically adjacent.

I'll rate 'A Busy Day' 4 points out of 10. It's not especially funny, but it has some historical value as an early example of on-the-fly filmmaking.

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