US Release Date: 06-20-1914
Directed by: Charles Chaplin
- Charles Chaplin, as
- Mabel's Husband
- Mabel Normand, as
- Mack Swain, as
- Wellington, a Ladykiller
- Eva Nelson, as
- Wife of Wellington
- Hank Mann as
- Tough in Bar
Mabel Normand and Charlie Chaplin on a park bench.
Mabel’s Married Life was another Keystone comedy short starring silent movie queen Mabel Normand. This one was directed by and costars the genius Charlie Chaplin very early in his development of the little tramp persona. Chaplin had first created the look at the very beginning of 1914 for the short Kid Auto Races at Venice. In these early movies this character often portrayed a variety of people rather than just the iconic poor tramp he would become known for later on. Sometimes he even played the villain and here, for example, he plays Mabel’s husband.
The plot is simple. A burly cad hits on Mabel at a park. Charlie tries his best to defend his better half but is no match for the big lout. After the interloper’s wife ends his attempted seduction of Mabel (blaming Mabel of course and in attempting to slap her slaps Charlie instead) Charlie goes to a nearby bar to get drunk. Meanwhile, Mabel, on her way home, buys a boxing dummy in the apparent hopes of enabling her husband to better defend her honor.
Later when Charlie returns home very inebriated he mistakes the dummy for the lout from the park and begins a rather hilarious fight with it. Mabel wakes up and gets involved in the slapstick shenanigans while trying to explain things to her husband. The noise they are making draws the attention of several neighbors who listen with interest at their door. Finally Mabel convinces Charlie that he is attempting to fight a dummy and the married couple are once again happy.
These movies from a century ago offer more than just entertainment. The fashions and societal manners are historical. People certainly don’t dress and act like this anymore. Check out the suits on the men at the bar where Charlie does his drinking. And speaking of bars, in those days they were for men only. If women were allowed in at all they used a separate entrance and sat apart. They were hardly the pick-up joints they would later become.
Mabel’s Married Life is but a minor entry in the careers of both its stars.
Charlie accuses Mabel of being unfaithful.
I like this little film. Mabel Normand was the biggest female star at the time, second only perhaps to Mary Pickford. She has a couple of good moments here, her best being when she practices fighting on the dummy. She is, of course, upstaged by the great Charlie Chaplin.
When he comes home drunk, he sees the mannequin and assumes another man in his home. He has a complete conversation with him, where he asks if he has been drinking and notes that his breath stinks, when obviously he is smelling his own. He asks the dummy to leave and gets irritated when he does not. This leads to a fight that Chaplin loses to the inanimate object. All of this happens without a single title card. You get all of this simply by how Chaplin acts.
Mabel was the queen of the silent film comedies. She made many films with Charlie Chaplin and even more with Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle. She was quite the wild star, known for her drinking and drug use. In 1922 she was a suspect in the case of a murdered film director. Normand owned a gun and was seen going into his home the night he was killed, but the murder was never solved. On New Year's Eve 1923, Mabel's chauffeur used her pistol to shoot and wound millionaire, Courtland Dines. The scandals and partying put an end to her career. Although she had been making feature length films, she was reduced back to shorts. She died of tuberculosis in 1930, at the age of 34.
Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand in Mabel's Married Life.
This might look like the little tramp, but you can tell that Chaplin definitely hadn't perfected the character yet. The biggest difference is that he still hadn't learned the art of making the character a sympathetic one.
And you should feel sympathy for him here, after all, a bully is flirting with his wife and there's nothing seemingly that he can do about it. The problem is that in the scene before, instead of showing he and his wife all lovey dovey, he's shown to be so greedy that he won't even share his banana with his her. And later he deals with his problems by getting drunk. Despite being the wronged party, he's just not that likable.
Even with all that, there are still some funny parts here. Although her acting is fairly hammy (as everyone's is in this short), Mabel is cute and entertaining as she boxes with the dummy. I was surprised to see her in pajamas and judging by the deliverymen's reactions, so must the audiences of the time have been.
As you said Patrick, this is a minor entry in the filmography of these two huge stars of the period.
Photos © Copyright Keystone Film Company (1914)