A Chaplin Carbon Copy On The Loose
Billy West Is A Faux Charlie in The Hobo (1917)
Stout and youthful Babe Hardy puts away a tower of flapjacks and mile-long sausage in opener segments of The Hobo I hope they didn't shoot twice, his eating as prodigious as any screen-depicted before or since. Was Babe's appetite half so ravenous in private life? It was vigorous golf that controlled weight over a career's peak; real obesity came only with cessation of sport and increase of drink, that being twenty-five years past The Hobo and Babe being fresh-faced rival to Chaplin imitator Billy West, who really had CC nailed and still can fool unwary watchers. How many less laughs did Chaplin fakes earn in crowded theatres circa '17? The Billy Wests were not cheap affairs, and the best of them are funny by standards of comedy that competed with Charlie. It helped too to have former CC supporters on hand to do a same for West, in this case Leo White from Chaplin's Essanay period. West runs through largely episodic antics, two reels eating up inspiration fast, thus action spill out of train station setting to purloined autos, police giving chase, and West sign-off with Chaplinesque "pathos." I couldn't decide if that part was homage, or Billy mocking Charlie for a device that by 1917 was familiar to CC's larger public.