The Matrimaniac (1916)
This short comedy feature stars Douglas Fairbanks in the kind of vehicle he would be known for before he reinvented himself as an action-adventure star. It’s a movie that emphasizes situation for its silliness, but still allows Doug to show off his physical prowess in stunts and derring-do.
Doug Fairbanks is determined to get married. Lucky for him, Constance Talmadge (sister of Norma) is just as interested in marrying him. Unlucky for him, her father has already picked another suitor (Clyde E. Hopkins) and has her licked in her room. So, it’s up to Doug to come up with an increasingly wacky elopement scheme and escape with her. Much of this movie plays like “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” with Doug and a preacher (Fred Warren) trying to catch up by any means they can with the train Constance with Constance and the would-be-son-in-law. They wind up on a railway cart, a burro, and finally another train before they get there, but then they have to avoid the “officers of the court” who Dad has called in to serve an injunction to stop the wedding! This movie has all of the elements of the later 1930s “screwball comedies,” including mistaken identities, people getting thrown in jail for the wrong reasons, and plenty of fast talking deal-making, plus Fairbanks’s remarkable athletic abilities, to make for a great silent situation comedy.
Fairbanks, avoiding the court officers, climbs up the side of a jailhouse, leaps from one rooftop to another, and also climbs along some telephone wires, performing a bit of a high-wire act up there. Actually, we saw Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle do something similar in “Fatty’s Tintype Tangle” last year – and, if nothing else the camera angle in that one made it clear that he really was high above the ground. Fairbanks is rather less athletic on the wires than Arbuckle was, and from what we see, the whole thing might’ve been faked. What definitely isn’t faked is some scenes which involve him and the preacher being thrown off, jumping onto, or climbing underneath (!) moving trains. Having had some experience train-hopping, I know how dangerous this is, and it would not have been possible to fake it at the time. Doug’s lucky to have kept all his appendages intact.
Constance Talmadge also acquits herself well in this movie as a somewhat spoiled rich girl who’s used to getting her own way. Some of her best parts come when she’s cutting down the man daddy wants her to marry. When he’s checking them into a hotel, intending to hold Constance until she changes her mind, the clerk asks, “And is this your fiancé?” To which Constance responds, “What, that?” The look on her face is deliciously chilly. She can also be somewhat domineering toward Doug. After going to some lengths to change clothes with a maid and escape the hotel, she arrives at the jail and find he isn’t there (he’s busy leaping from rooftops a block or so away). She declares that he can come get her when he’s ready, and stalks back to her hotel room! I was sort of hoping that the maid and the faux beaux would get together in the end – they both seemed like such easy-going people by comparison.
What really makes this, and other Fairbanks comedies, work, is that Doug is so obviously enjoying every minute of it. I recommend it as a change of pace from slapstick comedies, or to demonstrate to your friends that not all silent comedians were constantly hitting one another. I actually think I may have laughed out loud at this at least as many times, if not more, than the last Chaplin film I watched – and that’s saying something!
Director: Paul Powell
Camera: Victor Fleming
Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Constance Talmadge, Clyde E. Hopkins, Fred Warren
Run Time: 45 Min
I have not found this available for free on the Internet. If you do, please let me know in the comments.