Some consider comedy the hardest genre in cinema. Usually, the jokes in movies tend to be very forced and not genuine. It is hard to find the right balance in order to make the audience laugh, either it is through words or gestures. However, gestures might be even more complicated considering it is necessary to be very expressive but not in a way that might be considered too much or ridiculous.
The film One A.M. directed and performed by Charlie Chaplin in 1916 is an example of a comedy that has found the right balance: the jokes are on point and it is hard to not feel amazed by the character.
One of the most hilarious scenes in this film is when Chaplin tries to go up one of the staircases in the living room but due to his drunken state, he always falls down. He tries different paces and methods, such as the use of a rope and a climbing tool or the time he tries to climb a coat hanger in order to reach the first floor because he is done with the stairs. However, he keeps failing. What makes this scene so funny is the fact that going up the stairs should be something really easy to do, but the character is so clumsy and drunk that he cannot even manage to complete this easy task.
The scene is mostly wide shots, which allows the audience to see the full comic movements of the character, but sometimes it cuts to a medium shot or close-up in order to see his defeated face expression, that adds to the comic atmosphere. Another thing, is the use of intertitles due to its silly observations that sound obvious, for instance, when the character decides to “try another route” after many attempts in one of the staircases.
In addition to the editing aspects and the composition of the shots, the soundtrack also has a great impact in the way the audience sees the scene. If the soundtrack does not accompany the way the character moves around or does not prepare the audience for the right mood of the scene, the comic atmosphere of it can be changed and not be as funny as it is intended. For instance, if the soundtrack is slow and with bass sounds, the way the scene is perceived might change.
In One A.M., Charlie Chaplin successfully builds a comic atmosphere through the accurate representation of the silly choices people make while not in a sober state, even if it is something to complete an easy task as simple as going up the stairs. The way he performs is also impressive considering how difficult it is to express through gestures without overacting. Chaplin’s film is a set of bad choices that turn out to be hilarious.
Watch here the full movie: