Arguably the best of Charlie Chaplin's 12 Lone Star/Mutual comedies, Easy Street gives us a look at the environment in which Chaplin grew up, the slums of South London. Indeed the title of the film is likely a reference to the street where Chaplin was born, East Street in Walworth. Charlie begins this film as he seldom does, as a truly down-and-out derelict, huddled sleeping at the steps of the Hope Mission. The sounds of a service in progress draws him wearily inside. After the sermon, he is entranced by the beautiful mission worker and organist, Edna Purviance and stays after the service. Inspired by their ministrations he vows to reform, returning the collection box he has slipped into his capacious pants. Out on Easy Street a gang is pummeling members of the police department, removing their uniforms for the coins in their pockets. Toughest of all is the Bully, Eric Campbell, who menaces the other toughs, taking the spoils for himself. Charlie, passing the Police Station sees the recruitment sign outside and eventually builds up his resolve sufficiently to apply. His beat is Easy Street. He encounters the Bully who threatens him and is impervious to the blows that Charlie delivers with his nightstick. In a display of his great strength, the bully bends a gas streetlamp in two, whereupon Charlie leaps on the Bully's back, covering his head with the lamp and turns on the gas. (Chaplin was injured during the filming of this scene; the lamp hit him across the bridge of the nose, holding up production for several days).
As the Bully slumps to the ground, Charlie takes his pulse and decides to give him one more shot of gas for good measure. The squad is called to retrieve the unconscious Bully and Charlie is, for the moment, cock-of-the-walk, frightening away the other street toughs by simply spinning around to face them. His work also entails charity, as he helps a woman, (who turns out to be the Bully's wife) who has stolen food from a street vendor by stealing more food for her. Edna happens by and helps Charlie get her upstairs to her tenement flat. He's rewarded for his efforts by her ingratitude, nearly dropping a flower pot on his head. Edna takes Charlie across the way to another apartment where a couple have a large brood of children whom Charlie helps to feed by scattering bread crumbs among them as if he were feeding chickens. Meanwhile, the Bully awakens at the Police Station and despite multiple blows from the collective nightsticks of the cops, he escapes and returns to Easy Street. His fight with his wife draws Charlie from across the street and a chase begins, the Bully seeking revenge for his earlier capture. Charlie drops a stove on the Bully from a second-story window, knocking him out, but the street toughs capture Edna and toss her down some steps into a subterranean speakeasy. She is threatened there by a dope addict who injects himself with cocaine. Exiting the Bully's flat Charlie is mugged by the gang and himself tossed down into the cellar. Landing accidentally on the addict's upturned needle, Charlie becomes supercharged, defeating the junkie and all the denizens of the cellar, rescuing Edna. Peace is restored to Easy Street and a new mission is in evidence. The Bully and his wife, dressed in their finest, make their way to the services, under Charlie's approving eye. Edna approaches and Charlie greets her joyously and the pair stroll arm in arm towards the welcoming minister and missionary of The New Mission.