Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tillie's Punctured Romance

This film is very significant in cinema history.  It is the first full-length feature comedy (at 115 minutes), and it is the first film that features Charlie Chaplin, although in a co-starring role.  The film was clearly meant to feature Marie Dressler, who is a great comic, but Charlie stole the show in small ways, again and again, showing him to be the star he later would be.

Marie Dressler plays Tillie, a country girl from wealthy roots, but she remains naive.  Charlie plays the city con, who escapes from the city on the lam, finds Tillie and her wealthy father and decides to play at romance with the poor, homely, but strong, girl in order to get at her father's money.  With some help from a female accomplice (Mable Normand), he succeeds, only to find that there were bigger fish to fry in Tillie's family-- an uncle who is a millionaire.

Dressler is certainly a comic who deserved her celebrity status.  Especially in the scene where she plays drunk and all the binds of character are loosed, she is hilarious and unique.  But it is Normand who is the character actor here.  She is the only one who is believable, who refuses to mug for the camera and is actually interested in acting instead of playing a series of comic sketches.

But Chaplin is the star.  He is more funny than not, and his movements look fluid and spontaneous, a breath of fresh air in the midst of tired cliches.  Yes, I know it is 1914, but since the country/city comedy sketch gets played out again and again as does the naive v. con man.  They are classic tropes, initiated in the ancient world (Aesop used them, for instance), but you can see how tired some of the players are of doing this routine again.  Chaplin keeps it fresh and the fact that his now common stances and pratfalls are still interesting and funny is part of the reason he is one of the best performers of cinema to this day. It is nice to see him play a role outside of the Tramp character, and he does it well.

An additional benefit is the use of the Keystone Kops at the end of the film.  Again, their shtick is familiar, but fun to watch.

Overall, this is not only a historically significant film, it's a pretty funny one as well.  It is certainly worth watching for both reasons, and a good, short entertainment.


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