A Burlesque on Carmen is Charlie Chaplin's thirteenth film for Essanay Studios, released as Carmen on December 18, 1915. Chaplin played the leading man and Edna Purviance played Carmen. The film is a parody of the overacted Cecil B. DeMille Carmen of 1915 which was itself an interpretation of the popular novella Carmen by Prosper Mérimée. Composer Hugo Riesenfeld wrote the music for both the DeMille and the Chaplin films, based on George Bizet's opera Carmen.
Chaplin's original version was a tightly paced two-reeler, but in 1916 after Chaplin had moved to Mutual, Essanay reworked the film into a four-reel version called A Burlesque on Carmen, or Burlesque on 'Carmen', adding discarded footage and new scenes involving a subplot about a gypsy character played by Ben Turpin. This longer version was deeply flawed in pacing and continuity, not representative of Chaplin's initial conception. Chaplin sued Essanay but failed to stop the distribution of the longer version; Essanay's tampering with this and other of his films contributed significantly to Chaplin's bitterness about his time there. The presence of Essanay's badly redone version is likely the reason that Burlesque on Carmen is among the least known of Chaplin's works. Historian Ted Okuda calls the two-reel original version the best film of Chaplin's Essanay period, but derides the longer version as the worst.
A third version was released as a partial sound film in 1928 by Quality Amusement Corporation, comprising three reels based on the 1916 Essanay version, but reduced in length to accommodate a newly shot introduction spoken by newspaper columnist Duke Bakrak. The musical score was again by Riesenfeld. This version, with rewritten title cards, poor sequencing, and "fuzzy" in appearance from generation loss, can be found today on some home video releases. In 1999, Kino produced a version based on the work of film preservationist David Shepard, who studied Chaplin's court transcripts and other evidence to more closely reproduce the original Chaplin cut. The highly regarded Kino release is accompanied by a Robert Israel score.
The story of Carmen was very popular in the 1910s, and two films under this title had already been released in 1915, one by Raoul Walsh in which stage actress Theda Bara played Carmen, and one by Cecil B. DeMille in which the part was played by opera star Geraldine Farrar. DeMille had intended to film a musical version of the opera Carmen, but its libretto was under copyright so DeMille instructed his screenwriter brother William to base his scenario on the public domain novella Carmen by Prosper Mérimée. William included a cigarette factory fight scene from the book which was not found in the opera. Composer Hugo Riesenfeld arranged the music, based on George Bizet's opera Carmen. DeMille's film received positive reviews but Chaplin thought it was ripe for parody.
Carmen, a gypsy seductress is sent to convince Darn Hosiery, the goofy officer in charge of guarding one of the entrances to the city of Sevilla, to allow a smuggling run. She first tries to bribe him but he takes the money and refused to let the smuggled goods in.
She then invites him to Lillas Pastia's inn where she seduces him. After a fight at the tobacco factory where Carmen works, he has to arrest her but later lets her escape. At Lillas Pastia's inn, he kills an officer who is also in love with her and has to go into hiding and he joins the gang of smugglers.
Carmen meets the famous toreador Escamillo and falls in love with him. She accompanies him to a bullfight but Darn Hosiery waits for her and when she tells him that she no longer loves him, he stabs her to death. But it is not for real, Chaplin shows that the knife was fake and both smile at the camera.Charles Chaplin - Darn Hosiery
Edna Purviance - Carmen
Jack Henderson - Lillas Pastia
Leo White - Morales, Officer of the Guard
John Rand - Escamillo the Toreador
May White - Frasquita
Bud Jamison - Soldier of the Guard
Lawrence A. Bowes - Gypsy
Frank J. Coleman - Soldier
In his sequencing, Chaplin followed closely the structure of the DeMille production, using very similar sets and costumes, and he used Riesenfeld's music. At the end, Chaplin indulges in an early example of breaking the fourth wall, turning to the camera to show laughingly that his character had not really killed Carmen. The film was released in two reels at the end of 1915 when Chaplin's contract with Essanay Studios was up. After he had left, the studio added two reels worth of additional non-Chaplin material and re-released the film in 1916.
Hugo Riesenfeld wrote the original score for the film, based on Georges Bizet's opera score.
Robert Israel wrote the score for the 1999 Kino release.
A score was commissioned from Timothy Brock by Teatro de la Zarzuela de Madrid, and released in 2013 by the Cineteca di Bologna and Lobster Films for their Chaplin Essanay Project. Brock based his score on the opera by Bizet, to be performed in a 1920s style.