One of Charles Chaplin's most famous comedies, Easy Street is a superb example of the comedian's early work, a period in which he displayed an astounding streak of creative genius, making a series of stunning and deeply original comedy shorts on an absolute assembly-line basis. And yet, when he made Easy Street, Chaplin was coming to end of his two-reel period, and would soon embark on the series of feature films that would solidify his early reputation.
Easy Street was made for the Mutual Film Corporation only four years before Chaplin directed his first feature, the deeply sentimental melodrama The Kid (1921), in which he co-starred with a young Jackie Coogan (who enjoyed a brief career renaissance in the '60s on the Addams Family TV series as Uncle Fester). In Easy Street, which Chaplin starred in and directed (albeit without screen credit) in addition to having created the story and worked on the screenplay with Vincent Bryan and Maverick Terrell, Chaplin's Tramp character winds up on the right side of the law for a change, as a policeman patrolling one of the toughest districts in town. The usual members of the Chaplin stock company are well in evidence; Edna Purviance is back as a mission worker whom The Tramp is smitten with; Eric Campbell plays the toughest bully on the block; and future Warner Brothers director Lloyd Bacon has an uncredited bit as a drug addict. The key set piece of film is undoubtedly the sequence in which The Tramp, unable to beat Eric Campbell's bully in a fight, finally resorts to sticking the bully's head in a gas street lamp. The bully is thus forced to inhale the gas and is knocked unconscious. Beating the bully up makes The Tramp the ruler of the district; suddenly he is a hero and takes to his new role with great satisfaction. There is a last-minute setback for The Tramp, however, as the bully escapes from jail and kidnaps The Tramp's precious mission worker. But then, accidentally sitting on a stray hypodermic needle left behind by one of the district's drug addicts, The Tramp is suddenly filled with the strength of ten men and cleans up the town in short order. One of Chaplin's best and most accomplished early shorts, Easy Street demonstrates again his keen skills as a farceur and his almost balletic movements as an actor. After Easy Street, Chaplin's status as a screen presence was iconic.