>> Sunday, January 25, 2009
Mabel’s Strange Predicament.
USA/Silent/B&W-10m./Dir: Henry Lehrman and Mack Sennett/Wr: Henry Lehrman/Cast: Charles Chaplin (Drunken Masher), Mabel Normand (Mabel), Chester Conklin (Husband), Alice Davenport (Wife), Harry McCoy (Mabel’s Admirer)
Mabel’s Strange Predicament is minimal and was simply an excuse for the brand of knockabout comedy for which Keystone Studios was famous--A drunken masher (Chaplin) harasses a young woman (Mabel Normand) and her dog in a hotel lobby. After escaping the advances of the drunken lout, Mabel returns to her hotel room and changes into pajamas in preparation for bed. However, before she can hit the hay, she chases one of her dog’s toys into the hallway and gets locked out of her room. Once again, Mabel encounters the drunk, who is encouraged by the sight of the girl in her pajamas. She ducks into a neighbor’s room to escape her pickled pursuer, and chaos ensues, involving the neighbor, his jealous wife, Mabel’s boyfriend, and the lustful lush.
Mabel’s Strange Predicament was not meant to introduce the public to a new comic character. In fact, Chaplin’s part in the film was originally envisioned as minor. He was simply asked to throw together a costume and add a few bits of comic business to the short. Chaplin arrived on the set dressed in a close approximation of his classic costume (the mustache was a little larger and the pants and shoes were a little smaller than they would later come to be); and the studio staff was so taken with the comedian’s improvisations that he ended up receiving almost as much screen time in the completed film as the star, Mabel Normand.
Given the opportunity to ad-lib, Chaplin fell back upon the comic drunk that he had often portrayed upon the stage. Consequently, Mabel’s Strange Predicament is important for two firsts--the first appearance of Chaplin’s famous attire and the first filmed record of Chaplin’s soused slapstick. Of course Chaplin’s character and his inebriated shtick would be used to greater effect in later films, but Mabel’s Strange Predicament holds a significant spot in the history of soused cinema.
A Note--Chaplin fans will no doubt know that Mabel’s Strange Predicament was the comedian’s third film release. However, it was actually filmed a few days prior to Kid Auto Races at Venice, CA (1914), the second Chaplin short distributed.
Drinks Consumed--Unnamed liquor in Chaplin’s flask
Intoxicating Effects--Sneaking sips, staggering, stumbling, brawling, and public disturbance
Potent Quotables--None to speak of
Video Availability--Mabel’s Strange Predicament was long thought to be a lost film, but a ragged (and likely incomplete) French print was discovered under the title, Charlot à l’ Hôtel. Since Chaplin’s early work is in public domain, this short and Chaplin’s other surviving Keystone films have been released several times on poor-quality, budget DVDs from companies such as Delta and Madacy. However, an effort is currently underway by the British Film Institute to restore all of the Chaplin Keystone shorts, so someday the Keystones will be available on video in improved condition. The film as it currently survives can also be viewed on the Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org/) or in the video above.
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Chaplin next employed his drunk act in the Keystone short Tango Tangles (1914).
Charlie Chaplin at Keystone and Essanay: Dawn of the Tramp
The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion
Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema