Mabel’s Married Life (1914)
With this Keystone comedy, we get to see how Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand worked together under Charlie’s direction, so this may be a good movie to compare to “Caught in a Cabaret” and some of the other early Chaplins I’ve discussed this week. I’ll admit, the plot holds together better and both characters seem better defined, but this may not be a result of better direction, just the fact that Charlie had come to know “the Little Tramp” better by this point in the year. At any rate, there don’t seem to be “corrected” versions floating around, so the original edit must have satisfied Charlie, or whoever was responsible for the alternate “Caught in a Cabaret.”
Here, Mabel and Charlie are a married couple, and his frequent film-rival Mack Swain is married to one Eva Nelson, who I don’t believe I’ve seen before. They meet in a park that is conveniently near to a saloon. Charlie goes into the saloon and tries to scam some drinks. Meanwhile Mack tries picking up on Mabel. When Charlie returns and sees this, he is unable to deter Mack, even with attempted physical force (Mack just shrugs it off). So, Charlie gets Eva, who has more influence. Mabel and Eva get into a fight, however, and Charlie takes the worst of it. She and Mack leave, Charlie returns to the bar, and Mabel goes shopping. She decides to buy a large mannequin (or punching bag) and dresses it like Mack Swain (OK, that’s weird. Maybe she is into him after all). Mack enters the bar where Charlie is and encourages the other patrons in mocking him. Charlie fights back, knocking pretty much everyone over. Then Charlie, doing his full-on “funny drunk” makes his way home to be confronted by the mannequin. Of course, he thinks it’s Swain and picks a fight. Of course, it’s weighted, so it just bounces back and hits him just as hard every time he hits it. Mabel watches him and laughs. Eventually she goes out and tries to show him he’s fighting a dummy, and winds up getting hit herself. She and Charlie end up on the floor together.
This movie is paced better than a lot of the early Keystones I’ve been reviewing, and Charlie was smart to make use of Mabel’s reaction shots during the fight with the dummy; they often elevate the humor of his pratfalls. He also clearly respects her as a comedienne (whatever he later said of her as a director) because he gives her several scenes to do funny bits of her own, and plays off her well in their scenes together. Typically, a Keystone ends with a chase or just a degeneration into a scene of crowd-chaos, but here, the ending is actually somewhat understated. The biggest scenes of violence we get are those with Charlie and the patrons at the bar, but the dummy isn’t at all anticlimactic, because Charlie keeps upping the ante and getting hit back twice as hard each time. Still a very simple film, but it works.
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Camera: Frank D. Williams
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Mack Swain, Eva Nelson, Harry McCoy, Al St. John
Run Time: 13 Min
You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music)