Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Marie Dressler

Best Lead Actress 1914

The concept of the “movie star” got underway toward the end of the Nickelodeon Era, in spite of studios like Biograph and Edison that forbade using actors’ names in any publicity or in “credits” attached to the film. But audiences had started to figure out which performers they liked, and to demand more of them, and more information about them as well. And even today there are names from the silent era that shine out among the first stars, many of whom went on to long and rewarding careers.

The women nominated for acting in 1914 are among the most recognizable names of the period. Blanche Sweet got her first shot at a lead role in a feature with “Judith of Bethulia,” while Pearl White will forever be remembered as the Queen of the Serials for “The Perils of Pauline.” Marie Dressler demonstrated remarkable comedic talent in the title role of “Tillie’s Punctured Romance,” holding her own against comedy veterans Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand. Mary Pickford is probably one of the most recognizable names of the period, and her performance as the fabled “Cinderella” shows why. Finally, Beatriz Michelena is less well-remembered today (most of her films are lost), but she was no slouch as the first Latina movie star, and represents the strong woman of the West in “Salomy Jane.”

The nominees for best actress in a leading role for 1914 are:

  1. Blanche Sweet for Judith of Bethulia
  2. Pearl White for Perils of Pauline
  3. Marie Dressler for Tillie’s Punctured Romance
  4. Mary Pickford for Cinderella
  5. Beatriz Michelena for Salomy Jane

And the winner is…Marie Dressler for “Tillie’s Punctured Romance!”

 Marie_Dressler

As opposed to the male actors, where I was searching for a performance worthy of an award, this was a tough call because all of the nominated women were terrific. Ultimately, I went with Dressler because her performance is so different to what we expect from the generally young and vivacious actresses of the time. She plays broadly, but with remarkable timing, and shows herself to be one of the great comediennes of her generation.

Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914)

Punctured_Romance

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)