What Would the World of Charlie Chaplin Look Like in Color?: Watch a Colorfully Restored Version of A Night at the Show (1915)

When we imag­ine Char­lie Chap­lin, we imag­ine a man some­how exist­ing in black-and-white. The obvi­ous rea­son is that he became not just a movie star but a cul­tur­al icon in the 1910s and 20s, the era before sound came to the movies, let alone col­or. But to attain such suc­cess required skills tai­lored to the state of the medi­um at the time: that of mak­ing peo­ple laugh with­out say­ing a word, of course, but also of craft­ing an image instant­ly rec­og­niz­able in mono­chrome. Thus we don’t always feel we’re see­ing the “real” Char­lie Chap­lin in tech­ni­cal­ly more real­is­tic col­or pho­tographs, or even col­orized ones. But what would it feel like to watch one of his clas­sic come­dies in col­or?

You can find out by watch­ing the col­orized ver­sion of A Night in the Show above. Orig­i­nal­ly released in 1915, the 25-minute short was direct­ed by and stars Chap­lin, who plays the dual role of char­ac­ters called Mr. Pest and Mr. Row­dy. Both attend the same music-hall per­for­mance, and though Mr. Pest is of the upper crust and Mr. Row­dy is a work­ing man, both get equal­ly ine­bri­at­ed, their dis­parate social class­es pro­duc­ing dif­fer­ent styles of mis­chief-mak­ing.

The Eng­lish-born Chap­lin had pre­vi­ous­ly devel­oped these char­ac­ters on stage, hav­ing played the music-hall cir­cuit him­self since ado­les­cence. Safe to say that, by the time Hol­ly­wood came call­ing, he’d seen far worse than Pest and Row­dy him­self.

The qual­i­ty of this col­oriza­tion will per­haps not win the con­tro­ver­sial process any new con­verts, but it does give us a sense of what an evening at an Eng­lish music hall of the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry would actu­al­ly have looked like, a valu­able re-cre­ation now that none of us have mem­o­ries of this once-com­mon expe­ri­ence. We can more eas­i­ly imag­ine the kind of spec­ta­cles such estab­lish­ments would have offered, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to snake-charm­ing and bursts of fire, as well as its ram­shackle exag­ger­a­tions that Chap­lin so ener­get­i­cal­ly sat­i­rizes. We could also con­sid­er this his vale­dic­tion to that envi­ron­ment: the pre­vi­ous year’s-intro­duced the Tramp, who would go on to become his most beloved char­ac­ter of all, ensured that he would soon be able to put the music hall behind him for­ev­er.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

60+ Free Char­lie Chap­lin Films Online

Col­orized Pho­tos Bring Walt Whit­man, Char­lie Chap­lin, Helen Keller & Mark Twain Back to Life

Char­lie Chap­lin Films a Scene Inside a Lion’s Cage in 200 Takes

Char­lie Chap­lin Does Cocaine and Saves the Day in Mod­ern Times (1936)

The Char­lie Chap­lin Archive Opens, Putting Online 30,000 Pho­tos & Doc­u­ments from the Life of the Icon­ic Film Star

When Ted Turn­er Tried to Col­orize Cit­i­zen Kane: See the Only Sur­viv­ing Scene from the Great Act of Cin­e­mat­ic Sac­ri­lege

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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