Ambrose’s First Falsehood (1914)
This Keystone comedy came out at about the same time Charlie Chaplin was leaving the studio and stars his frequent on-screen foil Mack Swain. Swain is a lovable big goof in a classic sit-com situation in this one.
Mack is married to Minta Durfee, and we see them kiss goodbye lovingly as he heads out for the day. Minta is so fond of him that she keeps a huge portrait of him prominently displayed in the dining room, and she seems to swoon for him even after he leaves. Mack runs into his friend Charley Chase, who is riding in a car with two lovely young girls (one of them is Cecile Arnold). Charley needs Ambrose to come along, so that the “other” girl will have a man, but Ambrose says he needs to get back to his wife. Charley offers to send a note to his wife, clearing things up. What he writes is that Ambrose has to grab a train “for business.” In the car, Mack’s girl is very forward, hanging all over him, which makes Mack uncomfortable. He tries to beg off when they arrive in a low-class part of town, but they drag him into a café with a floor show. The proprietor is Edgar Kennedy, and he finds them a good table, despite Mack’s occasional attempts to bolt. The dancer is Dixie Chene, and she comes over to the table and quickly latches on to Mack as well.
Meanwhile, Minta reads in the paper that Mack’s train has crashed, with all passengers lost as casualties. She goes into melodramatic displays of grief. She dresses in all black and gets a wreath in his memory. When the funeral director (Josef Swickard) tries to console her with a kiss, she slugs him and shoves him out the door. Meanwhile, Edgar is now getting jealous of Dixie’s attentions to Mack (evidently they are “an item”). Dixie drags Mack out onto the dance floor, assuring him it’s nothing, and when she drops her purse, she puts it into his pocket for safe keeping. Edgar comes over to break it up, and when Mack tries to defend Dixie, Edgar punches him in the eye. Mack, looking much worse for wear, runs out, and Dixie tells Edgar that he took her purse. She, however, has one of Mack’s calling cards and gives Edgar the address. Mack gets home to find Minta in mourning, and when she asks how he survived the train wreck, he decides to lie, explaining his condition as a result of his heroic actions trying to save the other passengers. She finds the purse in his pocket and he claims it is a present for her.
The lie is discovered when the paperboy throws the late edition in with a correction that the train was not wrecked, and then Edgar and Dixie show up to demand the return of the purse. Minta puts two and two together and smashes his portrait over his head.
The slapstick violence in this movie is fairly minimal, with most of the humor around Minta’s exaggerated reactions and the “funny” idea of a man who doesn’t want to be unfaithful to his wife, but is peer-pressured into a situation not of his own choosing. Despite the title, Mack’s character actually does tell two falsehoods: first that he was on a wrecked train and second that he got the purse of Minta. You’d think Minta would be suspicious, given that the purse was full of another woman’s personal items (or money). Anyway, the two of them are fun to watch together, and Chase and Kennedy also bring their usual big personalities as well. Dixie Chene is probably the most aggressively sensual of the “loose” women Swain is pitted against, and she commits to being sleazy by 1914 standards, in a dress that shows her ankles and more. The most exciting shot is the one of the corner outside the café, apparently a location known to Los Angelinos of the day for the “Oriental Café.” It shows a line of wooden buildings almost appropriate for an “old West” location, but a bit too tall and close together, suggesting a more urban, but still underdeveloped, area.
Director: F. Richard Jones
Starring: Mack Swain, Minta Durfee, Charley Chase, Dixie Chene, Edgar Kennedy, Josef Swickard, Cecile Arnold, Ted Edwards, Helen Carruthers, Billy Gilbert, Slim Summerville
Run Time: 11 Min
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