The Fatal Mallet (1914)
This early short from Charlie Chaplin’s days at Keystone Studios shows heavy traces of the fingerprints of producer/co-star Mack Sennett, and much less evidence of Charlie’s own influence. Released after the first couple of Charlie’s self-directed pictures, it looks rather weak by comparison.
At the opening of the film, Mack stars s a bumpkin trying to woo Mabel Normand. He seems to be having some success until Chaplin, in full “Little Tramp” getup, walks up looking annoyed about the tryst. She introduces the two men, who almost immediately start fighting over her. Each uses a simple trick to get the girl away from the other briefly, but soon it escalates to throwing bricks, which as often hit Mabel as their intended targets. Now Mack Swain arrives, looking sharper and rather larger than either of the other principles. Mabel leaves the quarreling pair to go kiss him hello. Soon the duo are teaming up to conk Swain with the bricks, though he seems largely immune. Swain chases them into a barn, and they discover there a large wooden mallet that seems to be the solution to all of their problems. Despite bickering along the way, they manage to sneak up behind Swain and Normand and knock him out. They lock Swain into the barn and Charlie knocks Sennett out for good measure. He returns, to find that Mabel is now being charmed by a child, Gordon Griffith. Swain and Sennett find themselves locked inside the barn, making them allies against Charlie, who has now alienated Mabel by booting away the child. Charlie manages to knock Swain into the familiar lake at the park from “Twenty Minutes of Love” and other Keystones, then Sennett knocks him in and walks off with Mabel, getting the last laugh after all.
I wonder what the park authorities thought of all of these fully-clothed people doing backflips and pratfalls into the lake every week? I suppose liability wasn’t as serious an issue back then. Anyway, there’s not too much to be said about this movie – it’s standard Sennett violence and not much else, and not as creatively done as we’ve seen, for example, in “The Bangville Police.” One thing I’ll say is that Mabel equals any of the boys in terms of her reactions and falls when she gets hit in the face with a brick, although possibly the most convincing blow is one that Charlie takes in the kisser from a wooden swing right after he’s tumbled off it. That looks like it could have cost some teeth, had Charlie not been a pro. Luckily better opportunities to show off his talents were on the way.
Director: Mack Sennett
Camera: Frank D. Williams
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand, Mack Swain, Gordon Griffiths
Run Time: 14 Min
You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).