As the surviving partner in a gold mining enterprise, Joe Meadows has also been raising his deceased partner's daughter, Mickey. Now that she is older, Joe plans to send her to live with her aunt Mrs. Drake in New York. Meanwhile, Mrs. Drake is hoping to have her daughter Elsie marry another mine owner, Herbert Thornhill, in order to alleviate the Drake family's financial struggles. When Thornhill goes to California to check on his mine, he meets Mickey and becomes fond of her. Later, when Mickey goes to New York to stay with the Drakes, she finds herself in an uncomfortable situation. Written by
Mack Sennett had a strong reputation for producing wild, violent, fast- paced slapstick that often got its laughs without even a superficial attempt to make sense. He got that reputation for the simple reason that it's true. However, it's interesting to see how when Sennett knew he had on his hands a comedian whose laughs come from subtleties or reactions rather than fast antics, he knows to slacken the pace. That was true with many of the brilliant Harry Langdon shorts he would produce later, and it is true here in "Mickey" with Mabel Normand.
Mabel is the star and it is she on which the movie turns. She steals every scene she appears in and has infinite screen magnetism, with her attractive, fascinating face, constantly changing expression, and childlike and uninhibited yet somehow ironic manner. The greatest moments of comedy come in little bits of performance, as Mabel comes up with many ingenious ways to hide dust she has swept up, or simply can't resist eating cherries off a cake.
That said, there are not actually a lot of scenes of overt comedy in this film, and sometimes when there is overt comedy it comes out as a digression or bit of broad slapstick that is well-executed but has a different feel -- the battle in the country store (which looks a lot like the one Arbuckle worked at in "The Butcher Boy") over Mable's dog or the animal the scurries up her pantleg. It's not actually an uproariously funny film, but doesn't usually try to be, and it's always pleasant.
The plot is simple and of a kind that has spawned infinite variations. Mabel is a rough-hewn girl from a miner town who loves playing with animals and skinny dipping (from a very wide angle); she is sent to her rich aunt and becomes involved in a kind of love square through no fault of her own. It's really as much melodrama as anything else, but it comes off. There are plenty of twists, especially as the end draws near, involving who is rich and who is poor when; these remain able to keep the interest, and make a kind of commentary too, intentional or not, on the true insignificance of wealth.
This has been cited as the first feature-length comedy starring a single comedian rather than an ensemble cast, but even so it feels fairly developed as a form, with decent pacing and plot developing in two places at once. This is a simple story well told, and really made by its star, who is well showcased.
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