Plot: A hapless fireman (Charlie Chaplin) is always on the wrong side of his boss, the stern and mean spirited Fire Chief (Eric Campbell). The chief tires of the fireman’s oversleeping and lack of discipline, so he gives him a few kicks in the rear to spark a turnaround in his work ethic. But the fireman continues to get into mischief, slopping the soup all over his colleagues at meal time, leaving even the chief drenched. When a man offers to bribe the chief to allow his house to burn down, an unethical deal is agreed upon, though of course, our fireman makes waves as usual. As fires burn and a lovely woman needs to be rescued, can the fireman get his act together in time to be hero for the day?
Entertainment Value: This Charlie Chaplin short from his Mutual Film Corporation days clocks in at just 24 minutes, but is a consistent flow of slapstick. I wouldn’t rank The Fireman with Chaplin’s best work, as this is more direct humor without as much heart and soul as some of his creations, but it is still a fun watch. And once the short leaves the fire station, the material is elevated and shows more of Chaplin’s creative genius, with the rescue scene as a highlight. I think the scenes at the firehouse provide some laughs, but the issue is repetition, or at least it is for me. Chaplin liked to loop jokes and he was often able to do this to effective ends, but in The Fireman, some of the jokes are just run a few too many times. This is especially true of the kicking sequence, which runs too long and after a while, starts to fizzle out.
Even so, a lot of The Fireman works well and of course, Chaplin is always a pleasure to watch in action. His scenes here with Eric Campbell as the heavy are terrific, as Campbell is a great authority figure to clash with Chaplin’s troublemaker. He has the physical look to be an odd couple with Chaplin, while his attitude also falls in line with the needs of the material and character. Chaplin also mastered light romance and his scenes with Edna Purviance are also a delight here, especially the rescue scene, which again, is easily the film’s peak. The humor is broad and slapstick, but is often choreographed with immense skill and some of the set pieces here are remarkable. The fire truck scenes and the rescue stand as the most memorable and impressive, but even the soup spilling is set up so well, so simple moments shine as well. I’d think anyone with an interest in Chaplin or silent comedies would have fun with The Fireman.