One A.M.

Film Review by Dean Duncan Aug 17, 2015

The Albert Austin/dropped-by-a-taxi bit tips his hand: Chaplin is in what would become W.C. Fields or Jerry Lewis territory here. He establishes a situation, an array of gags and variations, then demonstrates every willingness to stretch all the way to and past every breaking point. Nerve! Virtuosity!

Love: the rug and the slippery floor, the various beasts, the circular and rotating table with the drinks, the stairs on the left. How on earth does he do that toppling walk? How many times can a guy fall down the stairs?

Love: the huge swinging pendulum upstairs, as portentous and inevitable as Hedda Gabler’s loaded gun, topping the previous routine on the circular and rotating table, the astonishing bed bit. Yes it’s absurdity bordering on cruelty, but the changes he plays here actually takes One A.M. into J.S. Bach territory. The fact that it’s all setting and jokes makes the film into something of a cartoon, but there’s profundity too. (And who says cartoons can’t be profound too?) For one, there’s the Laurel and Hardy notion of malevolent spaces and objects. It’s funny, exaggerated, but terribly familiar. And true too, as anyone who has ever had gravity minister to that thing you were just holding can attest.

And then there’s the alcohol. Chaplin plays it so ably, so multiply, so amazingly. But think of his family’s history. It wasn’t funny for him, was it? Comedy, the furthest thing from frivolous, capable of communicating deepest anger and of healing too.