Monday, April 3, 2017

Century old Charlie Chaplin movie, Easy Street, delightfully shows civilizing influence of Christian missions in the USA

Last updated on 7th April 2017

Yesterday, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this oldie movie of 1917, that's a CENTURY AGO, of Charlie Chaplin, Easy Street, 27 mins. [I had seen parts of it earlier but not the whole (short) movie.] As the movie shows, undoubtedly, lots of USA has a roughneck history with Christian missions being essential to civilizing the rough-and-tough community.

The plot of the film from

In a slum called Easy Street, the police are failing to maintain law and order.

The Little Tramp is sleeping rough outside a mission near the streets of a lawless slum. He is reformed somewhat at the mission where there is singing and religious education. His religious awakening is inspired by a beautiful young woman who pleads for him to stay at the mission.

Spotting a help wanted ad for a job at the police station, the Little Tramp accepts and is assigned the rough-and-tumble Easy Street as his beat. Upon entering the street he finds a bully roughing up the locals and pilfering their money. The Little Tramp gets on the wrong side of the bully and following a chase the two eventually come to blows culminating in the Little Tramp inventively using a gas lamp to render the bully unconscious.

The bully is taken away by the police but manages to escape from the station and returns to Easy Street. After a long chase the Little Tramp manages to knock the bully unconscious by dropping a heavy stove on his head from an upstairs window. On returning to his beat on Easy Street the unruly mob knock the Little Tramp unconscious and drop him into a nearby cellar where he manages to save the aforementioned beautiful young woman from a nasty drug addict after accidentally sitting on the drug addict's needle. Supercharged by the effects of the drug he takes on the mob and heroically defeats them all and as a consequence restores peace and order to Easy Street.
--- end wiki extract ---

Towards the end of the silent movie at 25:20, after Charlie Chaplin, the policeman, vanquishes the bullies, we see a message as follows:

--- end message ---

Ravi: I think the above message captures the theme of the movie very well. I also think it is a message that applies very well to many village and small town communities in India in 2017, a century after the movie was made, and perhaps in other parts of the world as well.

Some clarifications: My post is about the movie, its message and its Charlie Chaplin character. I am not saying anything about the religious views of Charlie Chaplin, the real man (different from the movie character), in this post.

The character that Charlie Chaplin plays in the movie, right at the beginning itself, enters into a small church/congregation whose singing he overhears while he is sleeping rough outside the church as a tramp. The lady piano (or similar instrument) player and also a kind of active person in the small church, the heroine of the film, approaches him after the service and speaks kindly to him. The preacher joins in later (initially the preacher seems to look down on Charlie Chaplin-character). These actions melt Chaplin-character's heart. Before he leaves the small church he retrieves the collection box which he had purloined and hid in his trousers, and gives it to the preacher, much to the shock of the preacher. On coming outside he clearly shows a kind of transformed/changed look (and also thumps his chest, if I recall correctly) in at least the confidence he has then in contrast to the downcast looks he showed as the tramp earlier on.

The movie ends with the mission moving to Easy Street, the location of all the fights in the movie, with all the characters dressed as gentlemen and ladies going to church. The Charlie Chaplin-character is dressed in the policeman's uniform benignly smiling at them and acknowledging the doffed hat gestures of the earlier bullies now turned gentlemen. Finally the heroine turns up with what seems to be the Bible, and a very delighted Charlie Chaplin-character goes arm in arm with her towards the mission church, with the preacher waiting outside sort-of welcoming them.

So there is no doubt that the Charlie Chaplin-character in the movie is not only a (transformed) Christian but that he is happy about being a key transformative influence on the residents (erstwhile bullies and roughnecks) of Easy Street, in making them church going Christian gentlemen and ladies.

Given below are some of my comments from my Facebook post,, associated with this post. Those who would like to view the full comment exchanges would have to visit the Facebook post.

Ravi S. Iyer wrote in response to comment from a correspondent who grew up in England (slightly edited):
... I looked up Chaplin's wiki recently. I was not aware earlier that he was British and had a pretty rough-and-tumble childhood. No wonder he was able to do the Tramp character so well.

Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Hmm. Interesting to know that only the upper classes of Britain benefited from the Empire, and that many others had a dream of leaving the Empire (to countries like USA). Sad that the feudal history of Europe (Indian history is much more feudal) was so entrenched in Britain that Empire's benefits did not extend significantly to whole of Britain.

Ravi S. Iyer wrote (edited):
I have read some of Dickens books, of course. And know about the famous book of his, Oliver Twist, if I got that right, with the line, 'I want some more'. I don't think I read Oliver Twist - I perhaps found it too depressing during my teenager/young adult days when I was reading such books. ... And no, I haven't seen the Dickens' plays videos. .... Interesting info. about immigrants from Britain, (in the past but perhaps today as well) leaving for a few other countries (USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa) to escape the misery and seek a better life. But sad as well. ... Somehow despite all the progress made scientifically as well as in some social fields, modern human society (say mid 19th century onwards which is when India came under proper British Raj - British Rule) has not yet figured out a way to have minimal people in misery.

[I thank wikipedia and Charlie Chaplin (and his heirs), and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above extracts from their website/movie (short extract from movie messages) on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]

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