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.’