Charlie Chaplin's The Immigrant (1917) is a slapstick comedy that also addresses social issues. The film has a simple plot with four main characters, one of them Charlie Chaplin. He plays a penniless foreigner who wins money from playing cards on a ship to America. He then meets Edna Purviance's character, who is another penniless immigrant. Out of sympathy, Chaplin decides to slip the money into her pocket, but later gets accused of being a thief after the money disappears. Purviance clears his name, and they arrive in America. Chaplin ends up roaming the streets of New York alone, poor and hungry. He comes across a coin on the sidewalk and decides to buy himself a meal. Little does he know that he has a hole in his pocket, which the coin falls through. After running into Purviance at the restaurant, Chaplin orders a meal for both of them. When he realizes that he no longer has the coin, he performs a series of comedic acts in order to distract the server from giving him the bill. As luck would have it, a famous artist comes by and Chaplin manages to get him to indirectly pay for their meal. The 20-minute film ends in Chaplin convincing Purviance to marry him.
[...] All the male immigrant characters in the film are portrayed as dirty brutes that eat like animals, and the female immigrants are sad helpless creatures. The Americans, on the other hand, are snooty well-fed people who act superior to Chaplin. The strong contrast between the immigrants and the American characters illustrates that the lack of class on the immigrants' part did not allow them to fit in American society, making them more like cattle. During the scene when the boat is approaching the statue of liberty, the boat guards gather all the immigrants and force them to stand in a corner huddled together. [...]
[...] When he sees the silver half dollar on the sidewalk and takes it, he shows the audience that immigrants in the 1910's had to retreat to finding things on the street because they were scarcely offered jobs. Chaplin has been wandering the streets hungry and jobless when he comes across the coin, and the fact that he decides to use it on food emphasizes on the fact that some immigrants did not even have basic necessities such as shelter and food. [...]
[...] It takes luck for a foreigner to succeed in America in the 1910's, and in this case, Chaplin and Purviance get discovered because of their good looks. This may illustrate how shallow and superficial America is if they ignore minorities when it comes to talent and brains, but they pay attention if they need someone good- looking. Charlie Chaplin's films, including The Immigrant, were mainly for the working-class audience. Since some of his audience members were illiterate or did not speak English, Chaplin made sure his films were understandable without subtitles. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee