Charlie Chaplin's eighth film under his million dollar contract with First National is a return to the two reel form, and to the lightness of the Mutual style. Chaplin plays dual role, that of a vacationing Tramp, and a high society inebriate husband.
Arriving in Miami on the same train are Edna Purviance, a neglected and lonely wife, who descends from the coach, and Chaplin, who emerges from the baggage compartment under a train car, complete with baggage and golf clubs. Chaplin hitches a ride on the back of Purviance's limousine. Purviance's forgetful,
alcoholic husband is a natty double for Chaplin. A telegram tells us he was supposed to meet Purviance at the train. Already late, he leaves the hotel room without his pants. Escaping notice of the other guests in the lobby causes him to delay his departure, to the point where newly arrived Purviance finds him hiding in bed.
That afternoon he receives a note telling him that his wife has moved to other lodgings until he stops drinking. He gazes longingly at Purviance's picture and, his back turned to the camera, appears to be sobbing. As he turns, however, we see the cocktail shaker he is expertly manipulating.
Purviance, meanwhile, is out for a horseback ride, and Chaplin has found the nearby golf links. His hilarious golf game, highlighted by his run-ins with Mack Swain and John Rand pauses when he sees Purviance pass by on horseback. After looking longingly at her, he fantasizes rescuing her from her runaway horse (in another of Chaplin's dream sequences), imagining their lives all the way through marriage and children. But the dream ends and Chaplin returns to his golf game, in which his drive breaks Swain's whisky bottle causing him to burst into tears, and in which he again runs afoul of Rand.
The inebriate husband has received a note from his wife, saying that she will forgive him if he attends her costume ball. Dressed in a suit of armor, his visor jams closed, preventing him from taking a drink, and he spends great effort trying to open it.
Meanwhile Chaplin has got himself in trouble with the law - while sitting on a park bench his neighbor has been pickpocketed and Chaplin is the suspect. Pursued by a cop, he sneaks his way through an arriving limo and into Purviance's costume ball. Purviance, naturally mistaking him for her husband, makes moves toward reconciliation, which Chaplin welcomes as affection. When greeted by Swain, who turns out to be Purviance's father, Chaplin expects trouble from their golfing encounter, but is amazed that Swain thinks he's Purviance's husband. Chaplin denies that thy are married, which gets him knocked down several times. Caught together by the still visored husband, Chaplin is attacked but the unknown assailant is subdued by the other guests. Eventually he frees himself and identifies himself to Swain, who tries to remove the helmet. Eventually Chaplin uses a can opener to peel back the visor (revealing an unknown actor double), and the confusion is explained. Told unceremoniously to leave, Chaplin departs, but Purviance decides they've treated him shabbily and sends Swain after him to apologize. Chaplin accepts his hand, but points to Swain's shoelace. When Swain bends over to tie it,
Chaplin delivers a swift kick to the derriere, before sprinting off into the distance.
The golf sequences in The Idle Class were inspired by an earlier, unfinished Mutual called The Golf Links, featuring Eric Campbell and Albert Austin, portions of which were included in Chaplin's 1918, How to Make Movies. A still, showing Campbell and Chaplin teeing off on the same ball made its way into Chaplin's autobiography, labeled as being from The Idle Class (made four years after Campbell's death) and was a source of confusion to Chaplin aficiandos, until How to Make Movies was assembled by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill. Chaplin's lovely score for The Idle Class was composed for its reissue in 1971.