Charlie Chaplin’s Tangos - The brilliant english actor and the music of Buenos Aires

The first years of the decade of 1910 were marked by a strong international diffusion of the Tango. The cinema did not remain indifferent in front of this agitation and in 1912 the “tangomania” was increased when the French actor Max Linder was featuring the three act comedy as a tango professor (“Max, Tango Professor”, shot in Berlin with French production).

In this comical short film, Max, half drunk , was thought to be, by a group of distinguished gentlemen, as the Tango professor that they were expecting. With fancy dance steps, invented in that very moment, he tries to impress the pupils and especially he tries to seduce the daughter of the house owner.

This long tour in 1912 during which he shot in Berlin, “Max, Tango Professor”, took Max Linder to Moscow, where he gave tango lessons to the Russian aristocracy. (1) The elegant Max Linder was again using the Tango for his sketch “C’est le tango qui est la cause de ca) (It is tango’s fault), presented in the Alhambra in Paris in 1913 (2) In this occasion the irresistible Lorenzo Logattti danced Tango. It is possible that the film and the sketch were the same work.

Along the following years, the cinema continued reflecting, or being part of the Tango fashion. Among the films of that time, several films of Charles Chaplin were outstanding. He was a confessed admirer of Max Linder (3). The first of these was “Tango Tangles” , Charlie in the dancing, directed by Mack Sennet and shot in U.S. in 1914. This is one of his first short films, featured by a unrecognizable Charlie without mustache. The plot is very simple: Charlie (Charles Chaplin) goes to a dancing hall and falls in love with the wardrobe young lady, but as she has two other candidates it ends up with a fight in the middle of the dancing hall between all the pretenders. In spite of the suggestive name of the film there is no tango in it. However we mention it because the word “Tango” in the title is in itself meaningful. We will always follow this axiom. In this case there is a play in the words where “tango” stands as a synonym of “dance” which is quite important.

Charles Chaplin did dance Tango in “Tillies Punctured Romance ” in 1914. This is the first feature length comedy film of the history. In the monumental mansion of Tillie’s millionaire unkle a big party is held where a numerous multitude dances the fashion rythms of that time. The central part of this long dancing scene is when, after watching a couple doing a tango exhibition, the voluminous Tillie (Marie Dressler), full of enthusiasm, starts to dance with the astonished Charlie, trying to imitate the couple of tango professionals.

Short time after this, during this same year 1914, Chaplin features and directs the short film “His Prehistoric Past”. Dressed with prehistoric look, he dances a mix of Ballroom Tango and Andaluz Tango, impossible to recognize at first sight by someone that has in mind the Argentine Tango.

In 1916 Charles Chaplis dances Tango again in his short film “The Count”. Pretending to be the secretary of a false Count he goes to a costume party of the aristocracy. With a lot of slippering, persecutions and fights, Charlie dances different rhythms, among them, the Tango, although his dance steps were more comedy than Tango.

Probably, Charles Chaplin had taken contact with Tango en his native London, otherwise he might have known about it in Paris in 1910, when he acted in Folies Bergere, the Olympia and Le Cigale. (4)

Years later, Chaplin will become an enthusiastic Tango dancer. With high emotion, Julio De Caro, recalled in his memory book the presence of Chaplin in the debut of his orchestra in the Palais de la Mediteranée in Niza in 1931. “Our work had to last for half an hour but was extended by force to another half and hour, finishing with a request of Charlie Chaplin, who was there decided to dance “El Monito” tango and the public asked for bis several times. Although our orchestra objective when they hired us, was to be listened (as a concert), this insistence of the British actor, made me change what I had proposed and, all of a sudden, removing the tables, the fascinated public, excited with the brilliant idea of the actor, started following him…”(5)

In that opportunity Carlos Gardel was also present. “El Zorzal” (the thrush as he was called) and Chaplin became good friends and they would meet again years later in New York (6)

The Argentine director, Luis Saslavsky, rememberd Charles Chaplin in a meeting at Marion Davies house in Los Angeles, a couple of years later “Somebody sat at the piano and played. Charles Chaplin imitated an Argentine dancing tango. It was marvelous. He was a rather small man but very well proportioned. He stood so straight and severe that seemed to be taller while dancing. I thought he would dance tango like Rodolfo Valentino but no. He did the perfect imitation of a “porteño”. Like a high class boy with something of Corrientes and Esmeralda.(7)

Pedro Ochoa. World tango and Cinema. Jilguero Edition
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