|"In the Clutches of the Gang" (1915)|
Edgar as Keystone Kop with mustache in back, left.
Biographer Bill Cassara sums up Edgar's varying roles at Keystone: "As a stock player, Edgar was playing villains, comic heavies, cops and even handsome suitors. Oversized mustaches, face make-up, wigs and other exaggerated features and clothes were expected for character portrayals. Each actor was expected to apply their own makeup. Stock players were supposed to be unrecognizable from one comedy to another, often depicting different characters in the same film."
Only recently Chaplin's fourth and previously unknown Keystone was discovered by film historian Paul Gierucki on 16mm at an antiques show in Michigan -- A Thief Catcher released on Feb. 19, 1914. Ford Sterling stars and Chaplin plays a minor role as a policeman who helps apprehend crooks Edgar Kennedy and Mack Swain, all on display in this wonderful still along with an unidentified 4th cop. Charlie next made Between Showers without Edgar and followed with A Film Johnnie, released March 2, 1914. This is the earliest Edgar Kennedy film that has been restored to excellent quality and proves to be a milestone for both he and Charlie. Here is part of the plot from Phil Posner's Charlie Chaplin Filmography:
Edgar plays the harried film director who can't seem to find a real cop to get Charlie out of the film he is trying to direct and out of the studio. Scenes are pretty much improvised around this basic premise. Edgar displays several creative grimaces that would develop into "burns" years later, though nothing at Sennett was ever "slow."
It's fascinating to see Edgar Kennedy in minor roles in these early Keystones. He undeniably adds to each film but displays few glimmers of true comic talent that were to come. Edgar watched and learned and finally hit his stride as the average man in his own shorts in the early 1930s, by which time only Chaplin remained a major star from the Sennett era. Fatty Arbuckle, Mable Normand, Ford Sterling, Mack Swain, Charles Murray and Hank Mann had all but disappeared with the coming of sound. Edgar survived and flourished and will entertain a new generation with "The Edgar Kennedy Show" now in development.
The definitive DVD set of "Chaplin at Keystone" is available from Flicker Alley. Good sources for DVDs of rare silent comedies are Looser Than Loose and Grapevine Video. Please visit the Edgar Kennedy Restoration Project and LIKE Edgar, leave a comment and ask your friends to spread the word about the campaign to bring back Edgar. Read about Edgar's dramatic films at the Bijou Blog.