Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Mabel's Strange Predicament

Mabel's Strange Predicament (February,1914)

Here, the first time the Tramp was filmed, we have a complex short, in perfectly timed comedy, with Mabel Normand as the star.  Mabel Normand had a series of films that she starred in and sometimes directed.  The films are of mixed quality, but they were among a number of films directed and presented from a woman's perspective, along with films by Alice Guy-Blache and Lois Weber.

The Tramp is drinking himself silly in the lobby of a hotel, where he pays his rent for a chair which he keeps falling out of, driving other customers away with his presence (and we assume, his smell).  Mabel happily passes through with her dog and goes upstairs to play with her pet.  Soon, she is locked out of her room in her bedclothes with a lecherous Tramp after her and her boyfriend to visit and a couple across the hall to further her embarrassment.

I am disappointed to see the Tramp in such an unsympathetic light, but really the star is Mabel, whom I might watch more of because she is a perfect victim here.  Although Chaplin isn't the star, he is the cause that moves the "predicament" to such hilarious heights, and his perfect timing along with Normand, Harry McCoy and Alice Davenport really keeps it going.  In a modern film, we might see this comedy stretched to a half hour of a film, but it is perfect at just over ten minutes with many laughs.   

This is certainly the better introduction to the Tramp, between this and The Kid Races, but we see that the Tramp was first imagined as a completely unsympathetic character.  We were meant to feel superior to him, as well as of the people who blindly reject him with prejudice.  We are to see in him the people we are irritated by, the drunk or the person who insists being in the film.  That's a good start, but of course, I prefer the more sympathetic Tramp of later years.

Chaplin says that as he was on his way to dress the part for the film, "I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennet had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small mustache, which I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression."  Mark Sennet was the producer of the film.

Note: this is the funniest of these films from 1914 I've seen so far, as well as the best choreographed.  And it is the only one directed by a woman, for Mabel Normand directed it herself.

4/5 -- Check it out!  It's short and funny!

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