Project Description

Charlie Chaplin: A Dog’s Life

A very warm welcome to the second in our series of monthly releases of limited edition Charlie Chaplin photographs for 2019—part of our celebration of the 130th anniversary of his birth—where each month we focus on a key Charlie Chaplin film.  

Over the course of 2019 we will build a substantial collection of important Charlie Chaplin photographs—all of which are available to purchase and hang on your walls at home or in your office. 

Last month we focused on The Kid. You can see those photographs here. This month we launch a collection of images from Charlie Chaplin’s inaugural film for First National, A Dog’s Life, released just over 100 years ago in 1918. 

The images that follow are available to purchase in limited editions as museum-quality archival handmade silver gelatin photographs, in a range of sizes from 10 x 12 inches to 48 x 60 inches.

Scroll down and select an image for full details.

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A DOG’S LIFE (1918)

Limited edition photographs available to purchase.

A Dog’s Life, released in 1918, was Charlie Chaplin’s first film for First National Films.

The pressure was on. He was already a global success by 1918. Two years earlier when he had signed for Mutual for 670,000 dollars, their publicity material declared that “Next to the war in Europe, Chaplin is the most expensive item in contemporaneous history.” Now the stakes had been raised. He had signed for First National for the headline-grabbing sum of one million dollars—eight films at $125,000 dollars each, plus an equal share of the net. He built a new studio in Los Angeles, on a five acre plot on the corner of La Brea Avenue and Sunset Boulevard, where he could exercise complete artistic autonomy, and this would be his base until he left America in 1952.

Chaplin started filming A Dog’s Life in mid-January 1918, and it was released on 14 April 1918. It was a three-reeler, running for 33 minutes. First National billed it, not surprisingly, as “his first million dollar picture”. Sydney Chaplin, his half-brother and business manager also appeared in the film—this was the first time they appeared in a film together. It was an immediate success, combining sight gags with more humanity and more narrative storyline.

Charlie Chaplin finished cutting the film on 31 March, reducing almost 36,000 feet of film down to under 3,000. He was on a tight deadline as he was departing on a fundraising Liberty Bond tour on 1 April with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.

Chaplin recalled in his autobiography: ‘My first picture in my new studio was A Dog’s Life. The story had an element of satire, paralleling the life of a dog with that of the Tramp. This leitmotif was the structure upon which I build sundry gags and slapstick routines. I was beginning to think of comedy in a structural sense, and to become conscious of its architectural form. Each sequence implied the next sequence, all of them relating to the whole. In the Keystone days the Tramp had been freer and less confined to plot. With each succeeding comedy the Tramp was growing more complex. Sentiment was beginning to percolate through the character.’

 The tramp and Scraps

Charlie Chaplin and Mutt: The tramp and Scraps
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Here are two of our stars sitting on a step for a publicity shot for A Dog’s Life.

They formed a special bond during filming. In a sad post-script to the film, Mutt died on 29 April 1918 – almost a month after Charlie Chaplin left Los Angeles on the Liberty Bond tour. He missed Chaplin so much that he would not eat, and died of a broken heart. He was buried on the studio lot. Chaplin would return to Hollywood in early May, a few days after Mutt’s demise.

The tramp and crew at the labour exchange

The tramp and crew at the labour exchange
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The scene at the labour exchange was an inspired piece of comedy business, and was co-ordinated by Charlie Chaplin in such a disciplined and meticulous manner that to the viewer it seemed like a perfectly choreographed dance routine. No matter how hard he tried, someone would always beat him to the clerks’ windows.

With Chaplin are his fellow cast members from this memorable scene.

 A cut scene at the labour exchange

A cut scene at the labour exchange
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The scenes at the labour exchange were some of the earliest scenes shot for the film. This scene, where the tramp attempts to lift food from a lunchbox, was not used in the finished film.

 The Green Lantern

The Green Lantern
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The Green Lantern bar – or “A tender spot in the Tenderloin” as it was captioned in the film, is the scene for much of the best comedy. Photographs such as this—which document the empty set where important film action took place—will be a feature of each collection of photographs we launch throughout 2019.

Even though this photograph acts as a simple photographic record of the set layout, it is remarkably evocative—it is impossible to look at this photograph without thinking of the action that took place there.

 The tramp and the drummer

The tramp and the drummer
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Here’s the tramp and Scraps, with the drummer in the Green Lantern house band, played by Chuck Riesner.  In an inspired piece of comedy business, the tramp stuffs Scraps down the back of his trousers, but unbeknown to the tramp, the dog’s tail sticks out, and bangs the drum while the drummer is on his break.

The large lady in the fur coat was played by Henry Bergman — one of a number of parts he played in the film. Memorably he soaks the tramp with his tears when he hears the sad song performed by Edna Purviance’s singer.

 The singer, Scraps and the tramp

Edna Purviance, Mutt and Charlie Chaplin: The singer, Scraps and the tramp
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The singer, Scraps and the tramp share a table. All three were leading a dog’s life — but in the end, the tramp rescues them, and the film ends with all three, plus a litter of pups, living together in a rural idyll.

 A double interview for Charlie

Charlie Chaplin and two journalists: A double interview
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In this inspired double exposure, we see the tramp being interviewed by two journalists. He is clearly bamboozled by the two-pronged approach.

 Charlie relaxes with a canine cast member on his knees

Charlie relaxes with a canine cast member on his knees
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A number of dogs were used in A Dog’s Life. Here’s Charlie with one of them. The dogs were borrowed from the Los Angeles pound, and were a handful. The chase scenes were chaotic. Two camera-men would run after the dogs, filming what they could, separating the dogs with ammonia when they became too boisterous. Mutt had his own special tranquilliser – a slug of whisky costing 60c – for the scene where the tramp uses him as a pillow.

 Charlie Chaplin and a canine extra

Charlie Chaplin and a canine extra
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Here’s Charlie with another of his four-legged friends, joking around for the camera.

 Want to see more?

To find out all about our plans for 2019—in which we celebrate the genius of Charlie Chaplin—just click on the green button below, and read on.

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Charlie Chaplin ™ © Bubbles Incorporated SA 2019
Photographs © Roy Export S.A.S / Roy Export Co. Ltd
Scans by Cineteca di Bologna / Musée de l’Elysée