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Tillie's Punctured Romance, produced and directed by Mack Sennett for
his Keystone Studio in 1914, is a movie milestone. It's the first
feature-length slapstick comedy (restored prints run 70 minutes or
more), and boasts three top players in the lead roles: Charlie Chaplin,
Marie Dressler, and Mabel Normand. Although it's remembered primarily
as a Chaplin film he was still an up-and-coming young performer at the
time, and made no contribution to the script or direction. This project
was based on a stage success called "Tillie's Nightmare," which was
known for Dressler's high-energy performance and her rendition of the
mock tragic lament "Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl." Of course
the hit song couldn't be used on the silent screen, but this adaptation
offers lots of slapstick and a wild climax featuring a full scale
chase, on land and sea, by the Keystone Cops. By Sennett standards this
was obviously a major production, with scores of familiar players in
supporting roles, extensive location shooting, and an elaborate set
serving as Tillie's mansion for the grand finale.
Historic significance aside, however, Tillie's Punctured Romance is something of a letdown when viewed today. For starters, Marie Dressler was not entirely comfortable with the new medium, and simply repeated her stage performance for the cameras, gesticulating wildly, dancing drunkenly, and occasionally shouting her lines-- which, of course, we can't hear. (Her true movie stardom wouldn't come until the talkie era.) Dressler's bizarre antics are amusing to a point, but a little of this sort of thing goes a long way. Mabel Normand is cute in her stylish outfits, but her role gives her little comic business of her own to perform beyond reacting to the activities of her co-stars. And Chaplin, playing a cold-hearted villain who seduces, robs, and then abandons a homely farm girl, is about as far from the lovable Tramp as one could imagine. It's interesting to see Charlie in such an uncharacteristic guise, and it speaks well for his versatility, yet we wait in vain for those genuinely funny moments we find in his own films, even the early ones. He plays the scoundrel with relish, but the part could have been taken by any number of other comedians. Even so, in one late scene Chaplin managed to slip in a gag that suggests the Charlie we know: parading before servants in his new finery, he trips over a tiger rug, then 'punishes' the beast, lifting it by the tail and giving it a quick spank. That was practically the only laugh I found in Tillie's Punctured Romance. Otherwise, most of the humor comes from watching grotesquely-dressed people kick butts, fire pistols and fall off the pier into the ocean, all of which represents Sennett's taste in comedy, not Chaplin's.
'Tillie' is best appreciated by film scholars. It has its moments, but can't compare with Chaplin's own later features such as The Gold Rush and The Circus. Viewers who have never seen a classic silent comedy may get a distorted impression of what they were like from this one, in the same way that The Great Train Robbery of 1903 suggests that all silent drama was laughably primitive. Personally I find these very early movies fascinating, but they need to be seen in the larger context of their time; the silent cinema shouldn't be judged by its earliest products.
P.S. Autumn 2010: A newly restored version of Tillie's Punctured Romance has become available, one that is substantially longer than the various re-edited and truncated editions which have circulated for many years. Modern viewers can now get a better sense of what audiences of 1914 saw when the film was new. The restored 'Tillie' remains very much a vehicle for Marie Dressler, but it's gratifying to report that a fair amount of the "new" footage involves Mabel Normand. She has more to do during the party sequence at the end, disguised as a maid as she sips punch and spars with her employers and fellow servants. The flirtation sequence between Charlie and Marie at the beginning has been extended, and Dressler has more footage at the police station when she's jailed for drunkenness. The over all impact of 'Tillie' is essentially the same, but nevertheless it's good to see this historically significant film get the archival attention and respect it deserves.
What a treat that this 1914 feature-length comedy still exists. Historically important as the first feature comedy, it also boasts three great stars: Charlie Chaplin, Marie Dressler, and Mabel Normand. Directed by legendary Mack Sennett, this broad comedy was adapted from Dressler's stage hit. It's rough, with missing pieces, but enough exists to showcase the comedy talents of this trio of stars. The story is trite but Dressler and Chaplin are so funny, you forget the plot and laugh along with the mugging and pratfalls. So far as I know, Dressler and Chaplin never worked together again. What a shame. Dressler adapted to talkies (winning an Oscar for Min and Bill) so much better than Chaplin did. Normand died before the advent of talkies. Anyway, certainly worth a look. Co-stars Chester Conklin, Charles Murray, Minta Durfee, Edgar Kennedy, Charley Chase, Mack Swain, and possibly Milton Berle as the newsboy. Berle always said he played it. Edna Purviance may be the leading lady in the film Chaplin and Normand go to see. I love this film.
The comedy in "Tillie's Punctured Romance" is admittedly mediocre, but
many who love classic cinema will still find this feature worth seeing
once just for its cast. Besides Mabel Normand, it has Charlie Chaplin
and Marie Dressler in some of their earliest film roles, plus Edgar
Kennedy and Mack Swain in smaller roles, and of course the Keystone
Cops. Most of these wonderful performers are not shown to their best
advantage here, but it is still a rare chance to see them all together.
The film in itself is only fair. The story-line had possibilities, but Mack Sennett's disjointed, knockabout style just doesn't work very well in a full-length feature. Most of the material is quite predictable after a while, and except for the "Cops", who have a few funny moments, the cast members do not have roles that give them a chance to do what they do best. There are a handful of decent gags amongst the routine physical humor, and a film-within-a-film sequence that comes off all right, but in general there just was not enough worthwhile material to fill up a running time of this length. With this cast, though, it might have made a very good two- or three-reeler.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm a guy who loves his Charlie Chaplin flicks, but this is the first
one I've seen without him directing it. Interestingly enough, while the
film loses that sense of tragic artistry Chaplin had in his directorial
projects, this film helps to illustrate another side of Chaplin that
could largely be unnoticed without a basis of comparison: the works of
Chaplin are pretty egocentric and usually involve Chaplin in most, if
not all, of the action.
Here, however, is a film that involves three comic characters. Tillie is a wonderfully robust woman who, if she was around today, would describe herself as "comfortable with her body." One day a Stranger walks by (Chaplin) and, due to a little bad timing, gets hit in the face by a brick Tillie threw for her dog to fetch (Why exactly a dog would be playing fetch with a brick is probably one of those things to be ignored). As Tillie helps the Stanger up and tries to be hospitable to him, she, her father, and the Stranger begin a series of ego conflicts with largely humorous results.
However, the Stranger has his eyes on Tillie's father's money, so he uses Tillie to get the money by promising "love and the great city" to her. She robs her father, they elope, and they find themselves in the not-so-great city--where, also, Mabel, the girl the Stranger left behind, is waiting.
The story traces Tillie, Mabel, and the Stranger through trial and error (mostly error), as they all try to find love, riches, and happiness, with pretty amusing results.
Charlie Chaplin is a master of physical comedy, but in this movie he's no match for Marie Dressler, who can throw her body around with the same sort of fluid klutziness Chaplin can, only with an extra hundred pounds or so packed on. Mabel is a wonderful sort of anchor to them, as her battle with her desires versus integrity often keeps Mabel and the Stranger from tripping their way off into space.
The film also includes a rather surreal moment where Mabel and the Stranger watch a movie that is highly reflective of the situation they're in, and as a result, causes them to look further into themselves than they want to go. That scene is filmed nearly perfectly, almost shockingly psychological considering most of the rather light comedy the rest of the movie contains.
This movie isn't really what I'd call a classic, but it's certainly worth the watch for anybody interested. Since silent film isn't generally recognized by most modern audiences, it probably isn't something anyone but an enthusiast might watch. Still, I'm sure it has enough enjoyable moments for everyone who takes the time to sit down and watch it.
Great silent Mack Sennett slapstick with Charlie Chaplin and Marie Dressler. Sennett is Sennett; it is great Chaplin, though he was dissatisfied (probably because he wasn't directing it, too); but the thing that really makes this movie great is Marie Dressler. The way she carries her considerable girth is a major element in the comedy and her big face and huge eyes are strictly for howling. Marie was born in 1868 and died in 1932, half in each century, a life in theatre and film. Such a shame she didn't have more time to live in the talkie era: I think she would have become one of the huge names of film. There's only one Marie Dressler. She shines in 'Dinner At Eight' and 'Min And Bill' both of which, among others, included Wallace Beery, a great foil for her talents.
Charles Chaplin plays The City Guy, who sees his opportunity to get rich when he meets a big-sized girl named Tillie Banks (Marie Dressler).He wants to elope with her so he could have the fortune of her father (Mack Swain).Mabel Normand plays The Other Girl, beautiful and villainous.Mack Sennett's Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914) was the first feature-length comedy.It was made in the time when Chaplin was just a new-comer in the field of comedy and was only looking for his style.Nevertheless this is a good comedy, even though it's not near Chaplin's best stuff.Other actors aren't left in Chaplin's shadow.That goes especially for Marie Dressler.She's truly funny in this movie.This movie has some great moments.For the silent movie fans this is a little treat.
I just watched this film for my first time on Turner Classic Movies. Unfortunately, the version I saw was several minutes shorter than 73 min.--so I'm not sure what I missed. Hopefully there was a scene near the finish so the ending wouldn't have seemed so abrupt. I rated the film an '8' anyway. In a showcase for vintage comedic movie acting, director Mack Sennett lets two comedic giants shine. Marie Dressler is tubs of fun in the title role. Strong as Popeye yet more clumsy than Kramer, Dressler is a walking disaster who, thankfully, has Lady Luck to guide her. Her performance seemed a bit Vaudeville at first but she quickly grew on me. By the time she danced drunk I was completely won over. An underdog with a heart of gold who can take care of herself, thank you. Mabel Normand also registers strongly in her nameless role. Though at 20 she was the youngest of the star trio, Normand was the film veteran of the group. It shows in her ease and manner and still modern screen personna. She knew a little could go a long way. Chaplin seemed miscast. I kept thinking a more handsome cad (Wallace Reid?) could have been funnier. Still... He's Chaplin.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a full-length film at the beginning of Chaplin's career. While
he later went on to make several amazing full-length comedies starting
in the 20s, this is the first. And, because it was made the same year
he debuted in films, his Little Tramp character was still being
developed and was not seen in many of these early films, or if he did
appear, he was quite different from the Chaplin we later became
familiar with in the 20s.
In this case, Chaplin plays a con man who bears no similarity to the sweet tramp. He strolls into town after vacating the big city because he's overstayed his welcome. In the country he meets Tillie and persuades her to run away with him. He has no intention of marrying her but wants her to bring her daddy's savings so he can steal it and leave her high and dry.
Well, he does just that--only to find out later she just inherited $3,000,000. So, he returns to her and persuades her that he REALLY does want to marry her and so they wed (apparently Tillie is an idiot to believe such hooey). A little later, she finds out her rich uncle who died ISN'T really dead, and so once again, Chaplin dumps her--only to be soundly beaten up by her at the end.
This movie is very fast-paced, full of non-stop slapstick and has a very scant amount of plot. At times, it's funny. At many other times, it just looks like a run of the mill slapstick movie stretched out to feature length. The bottom line is ANY comedian of the age could have played Chaplin's role--it had no finesse and the movie itself lacked the later Chaplin magic.
Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Marie Dressler and Director Mack Sennett on the
same set should be hard to beat, right? Well, yes and no. I would have
to agree with the majority of writers that the film is important as the
first feature length comedy, and for the exceptional talent associated
with it. But the slapstick and sight gags become tiresome in a hurry -
today's audiences are too sophisticated (or think they are) for
pratfalls, a kick in the pants, etc., and so the film does not wear
well.To really appreciate it we would have to have been in the audience
when it was current. Time marches on, and some pictures get trampled in
the march. I gave it a '6' solely on its historical value.
By the way, too many writers include a story synopsis with their comments - but why? If there's one in place, why repeat?
A city con-man leaves for the country where he meets a young country girl.
In order to get her father's money, he proposes to her and they run off to
the city with the money. Once there he abandons her for his own love, Mabel
and Tillie is locked up for vagrancy. However one all to her millionaire
Uncle and she's free. The con-man is happy until he reads Tillie's Uncle
has been killed in a climbing accident and that Tillie is set to inherit the
lot. He goes back to her but things are never that simple in love and
Best known for being the first ever full length comedy feature made and also for setting Chaplin on his way to greater things, this is a well plotting amusing comedy. Based on a Broadway who the plot stands up well and uses some nice devices (like the movie within the movie) to tell the story. The comedy is less routines than little touches added to the narrative only the climax with the keystone cops feels like a well worked routine.
This may be it's weakness to some who expect more physical comedy from Chaplin, but he still does plenty of that as well. He is good here and it's one of the more morally bankrupt characters that I've seen him play. Dressler is good as Tillie but she is so ugly for a female lead that I assumed I must have mixed her up with the other actress. But once over the superficial things she is very good and matches Chaplin for times.
The main weakness of the film was a fault of the copy. On top of the soundtrack was a voice over that talked you through the action as if I was too stupid to work it out for myself!
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