Almost every artist agrees that it’s easy to begin a work of art but it’s much harder to give it a good finish. When looking at Chaplin’s career, the same tendency can be seen. The final scenes of his movies were often reshot, reimagined and reconstructed, marked by drastic changes and sudden decisions. This time, I’m going to have a closer look at five of his films where the endings we know of today might not be the ones originally intended.
1, His Favorite Pastime (1914)
Since most of the early comedies Chaplin made at the Keystone Studios were filmed without a script, they sometimes end hastily or clumsily. As a result, after watching the end of His Favorite Pastime, with a perplexed-looking Tramp facing the camera, it’s not obvious that something might be missing. Yet that’s exactly what the following review from 1914 suggests:
The producer of a Charlie Chaplin film doesn’t have to go abroad in search of color and atmosphere. For that matter, the piece of limburger cheese which shares honors with Charlie in His Favorite Pastime provides an atmosphere of its own… In the final scene we see him at the top of a telegraph pole while an enemy below is busy with an axe. Charlie lowers the limburger at the end of a string. This drives away the enemy. A typical Chaplin piece.
Keeping in mind that His Favorite Pastime was merely the eighth film Chaplin has ever appeared in, these are quite flattering words. It confirms that the Little Tramp had a very distinctive style of his own as soon as he hit the screens. Here you can watch the movie, or at least all that’s remaining, and judge for yourself whether it seems incomplete.
2, The Vagabond (1916)
There’re some suspicious things going on as far as The Vagabond’s concerned. It has a perfectly comprehensible ending, though it looks a bit optimistic when taking the rest of the film into account. At the same time, two pre-release reviews mention the following destiny of the Tramp:
It’s possible that Chaplin – as he often did – had a change of heart at the very last minute and reworked the plot. Though this is nothing more than a supposition.
3, Shoulder Arms (1918)
Chaplin was always very secretive about his discarded ideas, so much so that once he ordered his cameraman, Rollie Thoteroh, to destroy all the negatives he had thrown away. For some reason, he considered the abandoned ending of Shoulder Arms worthy enough to mention it in his autobiography.
Shoulder Arms was originally planned to be five reels. The beginning was to be ‘home life’, the middle ‘the war’ and the end ‘the banqueting’, showing all the crowned heads of Europe celebrating my heroic act of capturing the Kaiser. And, of course, in the end I wake up. The sequences before and after the war were discarded. The banquet was never photographed, but the beginning was.
Luckily enough, this sequence, which was the planned beginning of the war comedy, is still available.
4, The Gold Rush (1925 & 1942)
The particular characteristic of this movie is that it has more than one endings to examine. The original 1925 release fades out after a long kiss between the Tramp and his new love. Actress Georgia Hale pointed out in an interview that it was possibly much longer than necessary.
For me, Chaplin really belonged to Lita Grey [his wife at the time], so there was a wall between us. We were very impersonal. But during the scene he had a legitimate chance to express what he evidently had been feeling – an affection for me. The kiss lasted way longer than it should have lasted. It went on and on, he kept retaking it and retaking it, so then I was quite sure that his feeling for me was more than just a director for a leading lady.
However, Chaplin decided to reissue the movie in 1942 with a new musical accompaniment composed by himself, a narration he had read out and some changes regarding the order of the scenes. In the new cut, he simply chopped off the bit where the Tramp and Georgia share a passionate kiss, as a result the film ends with the couple walking away hand in hand. Chaplin has never revealed his reasons. Here you have a chance to compare the two versions.
5, Modern Times (1936)
The ending of Modern Times might be one of the most emblematic finishing scenes in Chaplin’s whole career, yet only few know that originally he was planning a radically different farewell to the Little Tramp. This is how the chain of events would have begun according to a draft written by Chaplin himself:
On one of our adventures we come into contact with a nun. It’s just a momentary feeling or sense of beauty and the Gamin [Paulette Goddard] is moved by it. The nun is always very tender and nice to the Gamin – a pat on the hand, etc. We encounter her in the street again. The Gamin imitates her headgear and admires it. Each time the Gamin sees her she stops in the midst of the comedy and her eyes fill with tears and she says: ‘She makes me feel wicked’
It’s slightly uncertain how the story would have continued. Some sources mention a strike in the café where the Tramp is working, which he is reluctant to join in, so he is beaten up and sent to hospital. Other sources (and this possibility is supported by photographs as well) claim that after leaving the prison where he had been held captive, war is declared and the Tramp is forced to join the army. He gets a nervous breakdown and is treated in a hospital. There’s one thing we know for certain: in the meantime the Gamin has decided to become a novitiate nun.
During the shooting of all of Chaplin’s movies, everything was paintstakingly noted in the Register of Films, thus documenting every frame that was recorded on film. This is how the scenes in the hospital are described:
C.C. comes up to Paulette who is sitting on a settee. She takes his hand and he sits down. He looks at her robe inquiringly and she speaks: “I know, but it just had to be.” He withdraws hand, shrugs shoulder, says: “Can’t we be together any more?” “No, Charlie.” He puts finger to mouth in thought. She takes his hand again. He looks slightly forward and she turns her head, both very sad then look at each other again and try to smile.
In this case, the Tramp would have taken the road alone. However, Chaplin was simply not satisfied and he was searching for a better option. Let’s just say he might have found it.
All images from Chaplin films made from 1918 onwards, Copyright © Roy Export S.A.S. Charles Chaplin and the Little Tramp are trademarks and/or service marks of Bubbles Inc. S.A. and/or Roy Export
Sources: David Robinson: Chaplin: His Life and Art; Paul Duncan: The Charlie Chaplin Archives; David Maska & Ted Okuda: Charlie Chaplin at Keystone and Essanay; Charlie Chaplin: My Autobiography; discoveringchaplin
This is my entry for the Charlie Chaplin blogathon which I’m hosting with Christina Wehner over the weekend. Please click here if you would like to have a look at all the other amazing posts.