Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Mabel's Strange Predicament (1914)

A fairly typical bedroom farce, this one is significant as the first time Chaplin used his “Tramp” costume (though this film was actually released after Kid Auto Races at Venice), and also demonstrates that – even though he’s essentially a supporting player here – he had the ability to steal the show from such established performers as Mabel Normand and Chester Conklin.

Bedroom farce might at first seem all wrong for Chaplin, but he actually gets a lot of mileage out of the situations here, and would return to elements of farce all throughout his career, right up to A Countess From Hong Kong. Certainly at Keystone, bedroom farce was one of the standard plot setups that would get used over and over again. Here, Chaplin wisely plays the rather calm center of the frantic goings-on surrounding him. As a drunk staying in a hotel, his inebriated state provides the perfect excuse to wander around obliviously, stopping only to flirt with any girl who happens to cross his path. It’s easy to pinpoint why Chaplin walks away with the film – shamelessly mugging for the camera and inserting little bits of business wherever possible, he’s easily the most interesting part of the film, and his absence is always felt when the scene shifts back to the other characters. Mabel Normand’s appealing performance adds much to the proceedings, livening things up whenever Chaplin isn’t on-screen. She’s one of the only few other performers in these films who comes across as a real character, as opposed to the grotesque types of Sterling, Conklin, et. al.

Perhaps the most notable part of the film are the scenes toward the beginning taking place in the hotel lobby, where director Henry Lehrman wisely lets the camera roll while Chaplin does his stuff, rather than insisting on a frantic pace. The scene where the drunken Chaplin interacts with guests in the lobby before trying to get himself seated in a chair demonstrates what made him so unique compared to every other performer on the Keystone lot.

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