Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Virginia Kirtley

Mabel’s Dramatic Career (1913)

Mack Sennett combines several older comedic tropes in this film to produce a rollicking, and, I would say, unusually sophisticated comedy short for Keystone.

Mabels Dramatic Career1Mack himself plays the bumpkin star of the movie. He is in love with the maid (Mabel Normand) his mother (Alice Davenport) has hired as help in their rural homestead, and he gives her a ring. Mother does not approve, and lets him know when she catches them together, and she chases Mabel off to her work in the kitchen. Then, a classy “girl from the city” (Virginia Kirtley) comes to visit (it’s never clear what relationship she has to the family, or why she’s staying with them). Mack suddenly shows more interest in her, to mother’s approval and Mabel’s horror. Mack asks for his ring back and Mabel takes out her anger on the interloper, resulting in her being fired. She heads for the city, to begin her life anew. Once that’s all settled, Mack asks the girl from the city for her hand, and she laughs at him. He looks longingly at a picture of Mabel, finally aware of what he’s lost.

Mabels Dramatic Career2In the city, Mabel happens upon a “Kinome-tograph” studio, where Ford Sterling is strangling a girl on a bed for the camera. Mabel tries to get a job. The producer and director don’t think much of her pantomime skills, but Ford seems interested. He convinces them to hire her. Now, an intertitle tells us that some years have passed, and Mack’s bumpkin character is paying a visit to the city. He passes by a Nickelodeon, and sees Mabel’s picture on a poster. He decides to pay a nickel and go inside. He watches the movie, and becomes increasingly excited when Mabel appears on the screen! The man sitting next to him (Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle), tries to calm him down, but he doesn’t quite seem to understand the difference between film and reality. This becomes critical when Ford Sterling, in the role of a bad guy, threatens Mabel and does begins to strangle her. Mack pull out his gun and starts shooting at the screen, dispersing the audience, as well as the projectionist and piano player.

Mabels Dramatic Career3Now, Mack is out for revenge: “That villain must die.” He goes in search of the man he saw on the screen, and happens to peek in a window and find his apartment. But, there are three small children there! Then, Mabel comes out and kisses Ford. Evidently they are married and happy together. Mack, unsure what to do, points his gun anyway, but an upstairs neighbor prevents tragedy by dumping out the dirty dishwater on his head.

Mabels Dramatic Career4I love any movie from this period that shows us the interior of a Nickelodeon. This one has a lot in common, visually, with “Those Awful Hats,” which Mack Sennett appeared in for Biograph a few years earlier. But, the bumpkin-in-a-theater trope goes back further, to Edison films from the early twentieth century. By 1902, we had “Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show,” in which a yokel from the sticks confuses images on the screen with reality, and that is what Sennett is playing on here, only with a much more complex storyline and better characterization. It also resembles the 1913 film by  Louis FeuilladeTragic Error,” only with the tragedy averted. This Nickelodeon includes a projector’s booth, a relatively new innovation at the time (often required to be fireproof by newer fire codes that were trying to prevent deadly nitrate fires), and a female pianist at the front of the house. I thought it was also interesting that Mabel first signs up for a “Kinome-tograph” job, suggesting that the first part of the movie takes place before the Nickelodeon era.

Mabels Dramatic CareerThis movie actually makes better use of close-ups than most Keystones of the next couple of years, making me wonder if Sennett was trying for a more upscale production. Arbuckle is sort of wasted here, just playing off Sennett’s outrageous behavior, but you can already see his potential (he would be paired with Mabel many times in the future), and Sterling is surprisingly understated, especially in the final scene with Mabel. During the hiring sequence, we got the impression that his intentions were less than noble, but I was surprised that Sterling and Mabel are shown married with children as well – rarely do slapstick comedies allow their characters to progress in a relationship. I did feel that the first part of the movie dragged a bit, in comparison to the sequence in the city, but it sets the stage and gives us a chance to know the characters, which is part of what makes the second part work. This is one of my favorite Sennett-directed pictures so far.

Mabel's_Dramatic_Career_1913Director: Mack Sennett

Camera: unknown

Cast: Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett, Virginia Kirtley, Alice Davenport, Ford Sterling, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Run Time: 14 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with somewhat odd music).

Film Johnny (1914)


I wanted to be sure and include this early Chaplin film, because it gives us a certain amount of insight into movies and moviemaking in the period of our subject. It begins with the “Little Tramp” attending a Nickelodeon and seeing a Keystone film which excites him greatly, to the point where he falls in love with the star (Virginia Kirtley, who we saw in “Making a Living” and “A Flirt’s Mistake”). The theater gives a wonderful sense of the squalid conditions of most movie-going at the time: folding chairs are set up in rows so that the patrons in the front block the view of those in the rear, the room is tiny and cramped. Next, Chaplin goes to the studio, which we see in a lovely panorama as he first walks in, showing the conditions in which he and his colleagues were working. Later shots follow the more standard “stagey” framing, pulled back just a bit so we can see the camera running as Chaplin inevitably blocks the shot in order to try to win the girl. They move to a location shoot, trying to capture the thrill of an actual fire as the fire dept puts it out. Fights break out and pretty much everyone gets sprayed with the hose. Charlie does not get the girl.

Director: George Nichols

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mable Normand, Virginia Kirtley, Ford Sterling, Edgar Kennedy

Run Time: 12 Min

You can watch it for free: here or here.

Making a Living (1914)


This film actually comes before Chaplin’s appearance as “the Little Tramp” in “Kid Auto Races at Venice.” Chaplin wears a similar outfit, with cane and baggy pants, but he has a stovepipe top hat, a long grey coat, and a large mustache with a more villainous look to it, similar to his appearance in “Mabel at the Wheel.” He is an unemployed man who tries to panhandle a reporter (played by director Henry Lehrman) before hitting on the reporter’s girlfriend (Virginia Kirtley, also in “Mabel’s Dramatic Career” and “A Flirt’s Mistake”). They fight, and he manages to scoop the reporter by stealing one of his photographs and rushing it to press, then running out and selling copies of the paper himself. In the process, several run-ins and chases take place, including a woman (Minta Durfee, who was in “Fatty Joins the Force” and “The Knockout”) with a jealous husband, and several Keystone Kops, who wind up chasing Lehrman, while Charlie gets into yet another fight with the husband. Interestingly, this is a much more complex and sophisticated film than “Kid Auto Races,” which essentially used ad-lib comedy and an exciting location to carry the film, while this is scripted and employs varied camera angles, tight editing, and even a traveling shot of Charlie running down the street (presumably the camera was mounted on a car in front of him).

Director: Henry Lehrman

Camera: Enrique Juan Vallejo and Frank D Williams

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Henry Lehrman, Minta Durfee, Virginia Kirtley

Run Time: 9 Min

You can watch it for free: here or here.