Mabel Normand was the leading lady in slapstick comedies at Mack Sennett's Keystone movie studio, and also Sennett's lover (and a talented director in her own right). After they quarrelled over Sennett's philandering, Normand left Keystone and tried her luck at other studios, including Goldwyn and Hal Roach. At the same time, she dropped her custard-pie slapstick technique, and evolved into a comic actress of genuine subtlety. But drug addiction, a tendency to squander her money, and some unfortunate personal habits all took their toll on Mabel, and she died at age 35. She never made a sound film.
"The Nickel-Hopper" stars Mabel Normand (post-Keystone) as a dance-hall girl. She dances with lonely men for five cents a time, which makes her a "nickel-hopper". This film is excellent: the plot is realistic, and Normand gives a believable performance. The comedy elements are strong, and well-balanced with touches of pathos. Normand's heroine is a working-class girl whom we actually care about. But this movie is stolen by two actors who were not yet famous: Boris Karloff and Oliver Hardy.
Karloff, looking young and handsome, plays a "masher" who persuades Mabel to leave the dance-hall with him. We can tell by the look on Karloff's face what sort of "date" he's got in mind for Mabel. When Mabel finds out what Boris is planning, she comes up with a brilliant (and brilliantly funny) way of getting rid of him. Watch the hilarious scene involving Mabel, Karloff, a blind man and a policeman. When the cop shows up, Boris Karloff does an "away we go!!" piece of physical comedy which is totally unexpected from this dramatic actor.
Oliver Hardy gives the most energetic performance of his career (and one of his funniest) as a jazz drummer in Mabel's dance hall. Stan Laurel doesn't appear in this film, but Laurel & Hardy fans will be intrigued to note that Laurel worked on the script of "The Nickel-Hopper", along with perennial Laurel & Hardy scriptwriter H.M. "Beany" Walker. James Finlayson, another favourite of Stan & Ollie's fans, makes a brief appearance in this movie. Years later, Karloff's ability to speak French earned him a chance to work with Laurel & Hardy, as the villain in the French-language version of their first starring feature, "Pardon Us". He's good in that film, but he's hilarious here. Make an effort to view "The Nickel-Hopper", a very funny comedy which hints at the career Mabel Normand might have achieved as a dramatic actress.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?