9 July 2002 | wmorrow59
Early Chaplin, starting to find his style
This is one of 35 Keystone comedies Charlie Chaplin appeared in during his first year in the movies, made just before he was granted creative control of his output. Unlike some of his earlier shorts The Star Boarder has the feel of a Chaplin film, so much so we get the impression he was already taking charge behind the scenes. The story is straightforward and easy to follow, slapstick violence is kept to a minimum, and, best of all, Charlie himself comes off as a basically likable figure. In some his other early movies he's a scoundrel, but here he's the fellow we recognize from the films he would soon create on his own.
As the title implies, Charlie is the favored lodger in his boarding house. He flirts with the landlady (Minta Durfee) who dotes on him, but their relationship seems to be chaste. The landlady's husband (Edgar Kennedy, wearing a silly mustache) is unhappy about the situation, but he has a little something going on the side, too. Their son happily snaps photos of the grown-ups in compromising situations, then reveals his work at a magic lantern show and embarrasses all parties, leading to mayhem -- rather restrained mayhem, actually, by Keystone standards. We're pleased to observe that the kid gets a good spanking, too.
Charlie is introduced in a nicely composed shot, smoking in bed and peering over the tops of his famous shoes. He isn't a bad sort here, especially compared to the obnoxious sadist he plays in some of the other Keystones. His worst transgression in The Star Boarder is a raid on the boarding house ice box, where he helps himself to some cold beer. He makes a mess and gets a little drunk, but otherwise no harm done. As for infidelity, we are given the impression that the landlady is merely fond of him, and that Charlie is being opportunistic and turning the situation to his advantage. Even when he began directing his own work Chaplin wasn't always interested in gaining audience sympathy (as when he torments his elderly assistant in The Property Man), but ultimately, of course, he came around to a warmer and more humane characterization.
The Star Boarder is a little slow to get started, but the magic lantern show finale is worth waiting for. Over all this is an enjoyable short, not terribly funny or memorable, but a fairly pleasant viewing experience, especially if you're put off by the wildly rowdy entries from Chaplin's Keystone series.