Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Mabel at the Wheel (1914)

Mabel_at_the_Wheel

Director: Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett

In early 1914, Charlie Chaplin (later to direct and star in such films as “The Gold Rush” and “Modern Times”) signed with Keystone Studios and started cranking out slapstick comedy shorts. In very little time, he had become a tremendous success, and remains an iconic image of American film today. This early effort is interesting in part because it is so different to the more familiar Chaplin work. For one thing, it’s about twice as long as most of the others (over twenty minutes), but more noticeably, it uses Chaplain very differently. In many of these early films, he’s morally ambiguous but curiously sympathetic, but in this one, he tries to portray a classic pantomime villain! He already has the signature small mustache (he doesn’t in all of the Keystones), but he also has a sinister dual-goatee, which is our first hint. His primary weapon at the beginning of the film is a pin, which he uses on tires, knees, and butts to mostly comedic slapstick effect, but when the going gets rough we find he has two ruffian sidekicks and a stash of round anarchist-style bombs to use. The hero of this film is Mabel Normand (also in “Tillie’s Punctured Romance” and “Mabel’s Strange Predicament” with Chaplin), a force in early teens cinema, and the co-director of this opus along with Mack Sennett, the owner of Keystone.

Run Time: 23 min

You can watch it for free: here

March 1914

Mary_Raleigh_Richardson

Mary Raleigh Richardson, who vandalized a painting in March, 1914

As we proceed through our century films, it’s worthwhile to think about what was going on during the time in history we are considering. What was going on one hundred years ago, and how did it affect film makers and film audiences? This, I hope, will be a regular column for context.

Diplomacy: On March 14th, Serbia signs a peace treaty with Turkey, bringing to an official end to the Second Balkan War against the Ottoman Empire. Fighting had ceased the previous summer, and the other major combatants had been signatories to the Treaties of Bucharest and Constantinople. This brief period of peace in the Balkan region of Europe would end once again in a few months with the outbreak of World War One.

Medicine: On March 27th, Belgian doctor Alfred Hustin performs the first successful non-direct blood transfusion, paving the way for the development of blood banks and the saving of millions of lives.

Sports: On March 19th, the Toronto Blueshirts defeat the Victoria Aristocrats for the Stanley Cup.

Politics & Art: On March 10th, suffragette Mary Richardson damages Velázquez’ painting Rokeby Venus in London’s National Gallery with a meat chopper. This act of feminist vandalism was done in part to protest the arrest of Emmaline Pankhurst the previous days, and also because Richardson didn’t like “the way men visitors gaped at it all day long.”

Crime: On March 16th, Henriette Caillaux, wife of French minister Joseph Caillaux, murders Gaston Calmette, editor of Le Figaro, fearing publication of letters showing she and Caillaux were romantically involved during his first marriage. Due to her being a woman, this will be labeled a “crime of passion” and result in her acquittal of premeditated murder.

The Movies: The Avenging Conscience released March 24, Perils of Pauline released March 31.

Births: March 2, Director Martin Ritt, who would make “Hud” (1963), “The Great White Hope” (1970), and “The Front” (1976).

Deaths: March 25, Frederic Mistral (83), who wrote the Provencal poem “Mireille.”