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The Immigrant

Theatrical poster for The Immigrant (1917)
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Edward Brewer (technical director)
Produced by John Jasper
Written by Charles Chaplin (scenario)
Vincent Bryan (scenario)
Maverick Terrell (scenario)
Starring Charles Chaplin
Edna Purviance
Eric Campbell
Cinematography Roland H. Totheroh
George C. Zalibra
Editing by Charles Chaplin
Distributed by Mutual Film Corporation
Release date(s) June 17, 1917
Running time 20 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles

The Immigrant (also called Broke) is a 1916 American comedy short film starring the Charlie Chaplin Tramp character as an immigrant coming to the United States who is accused of theft on the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, and befriends a young woman along the way. It also stars Edna Purviance and Eric Campbell.

The movie was written and directed by Chaplin.

According to Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's documentary series Unknown Chaplin, the first scenes to be written and filmed take place in what became the movie's second half, in which the penniless Tramp finds a coin and goes for a meal in a restaurant, not realising that the coin has fallen out of his pocket. It was not until later that Chaplin decided the reason the Tramp was penniless was that he had just arrived on a boat from Europe, and used this notion as the basis for the first half. Purviance reportedly was required to eat so many plates of beans during the many takes to complete the restaurant sequence (in character as another immigrant who falls in love with Charlie) that she became physically ill.

The scene in which Chaplin's character kicks an immigration officer was cited later as evidence of his anti-Americanism when he was forced to leave the United States in 1952. In 1998, The Immigrant was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".




The film begins aboard a steamer crossing the Atlantic Ocean, and initially showcases the misadventures of an unnamed immigrant (Chaplin) who finds himself in assorted mischief while, among other things, playing cards, eating in a mess hall, and avoiding seasick passengers. Along the way, he befriends another unnamed immigrant (Purviance) who is travelling to America with her ailing mother. The tramp, feeling sorry for the two penniless women, attempts to secretly place his winnings from his card game in the woman's (Purviance) pocket, but ends up being mistakenly accused of being a pickpocket. The woman (Purviance) manages to clear the tramp's name. Upon arrival in America, the tramp and Edna part company.

Later, hungry and broke, the tramp finds a coin on the street and goes into a nearby restaurant, where he orders a plate of beans. There, he is reunited with Edna and discovers her mother is dead. Charlie orders a meal for Edna.

As they eat, they watch the restaurant's burly head waiter (Campbell) and other waiters attack and forcibly eject a patron who is short 10 cents in paying his bill. Charlie, intimidated by the waiter, checks for his coin and discovers it has fallen out a hole in his pocket. Terrified of facing the same treatment as the man he saw thrown out, the tramp begins planning how he will fight the huge man. Soon, however, he finds another coin (or possibly the one he had earlier) on the floor and manages to retrieve it. He gives it to the waiter only to be thunderstruck when the waiter reveals the coin to be fake. Once again, Charlie prepares for the fight of his life. Just then, a visiting artist spots Edna and Charlie and offers them a job to pose for a painting. The two agree. The artist offers to pay for Edna and Charlie's meal, but Charlie declines the offer several times for reasons of etiquette, intending to eventually accept the artist's offer; however, he's dismayed when the artist does not renew his offer to pay at the last moment. The artist pays for his own meal and leaves a tip for the waiter. Charlie notices that the tip is enough to cover Charlie and Edna's meal and, without the artist noticing, palms the tip and presents it to the waiter as his own payment for his and Edna's meal. As a final riposte, he lets the waiter keep the remaining change - one small coin - after paying his bill. Afterwards, outside a marriage license office, the tramp proposes marriage to Edna who is coy and reluctant until Charlie physically carries the laughing girl into the office.

Chaplin and Purviance in the memorable restaurant scene


Episode 1 of the 1983 documentary series Unknown Chaplin reveals that Chaplin developed the storyline for The Immigrant as filming progressed. Initially, the movie began as a comedy set in an artists cafe, with Purviance as a brightly dressed patron. This plot was abandoned almost immediately, before Chaplin's character was introduced, the documentary states, and Chaplin began again, with a story, still set in a cafe, about a man who has never been in a restaurant before displaying terrible table manners before meeting a lovely girl (Purviance) and shaping up. Initially, Henry Bergman played the bully-ish head waiter, but Chaplin eventually replaced him with Eric Campbell. According to Unknown Chaplin, Chaplin developed the idea of the tramp and Purviance's character being immigrants when he realized he needed more plot to justify the restaurant scenes. After filming the film's opening sequences of the arrival in America, he reshot parts of the restaurant scene to be consistent with the new plot (bringing Bergman back in a new role as an artist who resolves the subplot of Charlie being unable to pay for dinner), and added the epilogue in which the Tramp and Purviance are married.

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