Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914)
Director: Mack Sennett
Starring: Charles Chaplin, Mack Swain, Mabel Normand
By the end of 1914, when this movie came out, film audiences were demanding two things: feature-length films and as much Charlie Chaplin as they could get, so it’s not surprising that the two were combined. Chaplin had single-handedly put tiny Keystone Studios on the map by signing with them earlier that year and had become a true blockbuster star just by putting together slapstick shorts built around the formula (as Charlie would later describe it) of “a girl, a park, and a policeman.” That wasn’t enough to fill ninety minutes, though, so for this story we get a rather more complex story structure, in which Charlie (in a somewhat slick variation on his “Little Tramp” getup) is the “City Stranger” who comes into the life of homely farmgirl Marie Dressler (who was later in “Min and Bill” and “Emma”) and promises to take her away from her abusive father (regular Chaplin foil Mack Swain, who had been in “His Trysting Place” and would later co-star in “The Gold Rush”). Once he’s lured Tillie back to the city, he meets up with his regular girl (Mabel Normand, another Chaplin regular, who had been in “Mabel at the Wheel” and “The Masquerader”) and the pair proceed to get her drunk and arrested, fleecing her of her purse. This is a parody of the standard “lost girl” melodrama of the day, and the satire carries on from there, becoming increasingly ridiculous and uproarious. One thing I’ve mentioned before about the Keystones is that they lock the camera down for each shot, framing a “stage” (sometimes corresponding to the size of a room) on which actors may perform, and which they enter and exit. The camera never moves, never follows, them, it merely defines a space for them to work in. However, in contrast to the days of Melies, complex editing structures allow the various shots/stages to interact with one another.
Run Time: 71 min (83 min restored version)
You can watch it for free: here (71 min version)