Nearly 100 years later, a 1914 short titled A Thief Catcher, featuring a three-minute appearance by Charlie Chaplin as a clownish Keystone cop, was uncovered last year at a Taylor, Michigan antiques sale by film historian Paul Gierucki, reports NPR. The 16mm print is a marvelous find for film historians as Chaplin’s filmography hasn’t been altered for 60 years. Chaplin had once referenced a film in which he portrayed a cop but never gave a title. Studio records held no record of Chaplin’s appearance in the film, and the British Film Institute neglected to include it in his 1938 filmography. Yet there now exists physical nitrate proof.
Gierucki purchased the reel from the antiques sale but put off viewing it for months, assuming it was any other Keystone comedy. Finally one night he ran it and was shocked when he recognized some very familiar mannerisms displayed by a funny man with a mustache. The 10-minute film also featuring Ford Sterling, Mack Swain, and Edgar Kennedy screened publicly at the Slapsticon film festival in Arlington, Virginia over the weekend, possibly for the first time since 1914. Chaplin's silent cinema debut was in 1914 when he first appeared in Making A Living, then introduced his most memorable character, The Tramp, in Kid Auto Races At Venice, which quickly led to him becoming the most popular Keystone actor and an international star.
Gierucki plans for a DVD release as well as a tour of other festivals but no details have been worked out yet.
Here is Chaplin’s classic eating machine sequence from Modern Times.