A Burlesque on Carmen is Charlie Chaplin’s thirteenth film for Essanay Studios, originally released as Carmen on December 18, 1915. Chaplin played the leading man and Edna Purviance played Carmen. The film is a parody of Cecil B. DeMille’s Carmen 1915, which was itself an interpretation of the popular novella Carmen by Prosper Mérimée.
Chaplin’s original version was a tightly paced two-reeler, but in 1916 after he had moved to Mutual, Essanay reworked the film into a four-reel version called A Burlesque on Carmen, or Charlie Chaplin’s 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, and 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 A Burlesque on Carmen is among the least known of Chaplin’s early 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.
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.