Saturday, August 8, 2009

Comedy: Mabel's Strange Predicament (1914, Henry Lehrman & Mack Sennett)

Mabel's Strange Predicament (1914)
USA, 17 min
Directed by: Henry Lehrman, Mack Sennett
Written by: Henry Lehrman
Starring: Charles Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Chester Conklin, Alice Davenport, Harry McCoy, Hank Mann, Al St. John

Walt Disney stated that his prime inspiration for creating Mickey Mouse was Chaplin's Tramp character. However, the Mickey seen in Plane Crazy (1928) and Steamboat Willie (1928) bears little resemblance to the gallant hopeless-romantic whom Chaplin made famous in The Kid (1921) and other classic features. Instead, the early "evil" Mickey Mouse probably took a few leaves from the book of Chaplin's early "evil" tramp, who is here portrayed as a drunken scumbag who tries to take advantage of a pajama-clad Mabel Normand. Mabel's Strange Predicament (1914) was, in fact, the birth of Chaplin's Little Tramp character, though Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914) was released two days earlier. As the title suggests, the star of the film is actually Normand, who was a leading comedienne in her day, and this was the first film in a series of collaborations for the pair.

In a hotel lobby, an intoxicated tramp sloppily flirts with Mabel, somehow deciding that yanking on her dog's tail is a surefire way of attracting the girl's attention. Mabel huffily storms off to her room, but later runs into Chaplin in the hallway, after having locked herself out of her room wearing only pajamas. What follows is an amusing farce that resembles something the Marx Brothers would have cooked up, as Mabel evades the Tramp by taking cover under the bed of another man, whose wife arrives home and comes to the natural conclusion. This isn't high-class comedy, but Chaplin is clearly the shining light of the film: he staggers drunkenly from room to room, with an exasperated sneer beneath his moustache, and every time he falls down it is actually uproariously funny. Don't ask me how he did it, but nobody (except maybe Buster Keaton) could ever take a tumble like Chaplin could.

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