September Slapstick: The Super Friends | A Film Johnnie (1914)

On this final day of September, I’m posting a couple entries on silent comedy teams — those two are coming later today.

Before that, I wanted to give a final shout-out to Mack Sennett and his repertory players, specifically Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Fatty Arbuckle, and Ford Sterling. They all make an appearance in A Film Johnnie, a meta-movie directed by George Nichols, in which Chaplin visits the Keystone Studios lot. The mayhem that follows is a prelude to the real-life relationship difficulties that soon existed between each of these stars.

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September Slapstick: The Movie Dick | Pool Sharks (1915)

W.C. Fields (born William Claude Dukenfield) was a comedian, actor, juggler and writer. Despite creating a comic persona as a hard-drinking misanthrope — while publicly expressing his contempt for dogs, women, and children — Fields remained a sympathetic and beloved entertainer.

Here is his first film appearance: 1915’s Pool Sharks, directed by Edwin Middleton for the Gaumont Film Company.

September Slapstick: Creating The Tramp | Mabel’s Strange Predicament (1914)

The first time Chaplin donned his “Tramp” costume: Mabel’s Strange Predicament, directed by and starring Mabel Normand. From a 1933 interview, Chaplin recalls The Tramp’s inception:

I was hurriedly told to put on a funny make-up. This time I went to the wardrobe and got a pair of baggy pants, a tight coat, a small derby hat and a large pair of shoes. I wanted the clothes to be a mass of contradictions, knowing pictorially the figure would be vividly outlined on the screen. To add a comic touch, I wore a small mustache which would not hide my expression. My appearance got an enthusiastic response from everyone, including Mr. Sennett. The clothes seemed to imbue me with the spirit of the character. He actually became a man with a soul – a point of view. I defined to Mr. Sennett the type of person he was. He wears an air of romantic hunger, forever seeking death, but his feet won’t let him.” 

Note that this is not the 1st film appearance of The Tramp, based upon release date — Kid Auto Races at Venice was released 2 days earlier (on February 7th, 1914).

September Slapstick: The Tramp Appears | Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914)

The first film appearance of Charlie Chaplin’s famous character, The Tramp.

Note that this was not the first time Chaplin donned the costume – that occurred for the filming of Mabel’s Strange Predicament. However, Kid Auto Races at Venice (directed by Henry Lehrman) was released on February 7th, 1914, two days before Mabel’s Strange Predicament.

September Slapstick: Chaplin’s First Film | Making a Living (1914)

An entire blog series can be created just for the shorts of Charles “Charlie” Chaplin, and I plan to do this for the next month starting with the letter ‘C’…maybe I should choose a different time.

Regardless, Chaplin made his film debut in the appropriately titled, Making a Living, playing a swindler and not his lovable tramp character. It was directed by Henry Lehrman and is the 6th of 12 movies featuring Mack Sennett’s Keystone Cops.

September Slapstick: The 1st Fatty | Peeping Pete (1913)

Roscoe Conkling “Fatty” Arbuckle. One of the most influential, controversial, and tragic stars from early cinema. He was a mentor to Charlie Chaplin, discovered Buster Keaton and Bob Hope, signed one of the first million-dollar contracts, was accused (and acquitted) in the rape and accidental killing of Virginia Rappe, had his films banned during the height of his career, and then died of a heart attack at the age of 46.

Below we have the oldest surviving film appearance of Fatty Arbuckle: Peeping Pete, starring Mack Sennett (who also directed) as the movie’s titular character. It was released as a split reel along with A Bandit, which also features Arbuckle.

September Slapstick: Villainy Defined | Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life (1913)

Barney Oldfield — 1st car racer to break 60mph on an oval, and later 100mph at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — is the celebrity focus of the title, but it is Ford Sterling who steals the show, hamming it up as the sneering, mustache-twisting, henchmen-having villain.

This 4th Keystone Cops movie also features Mabel Normand and Mack Sennett, who pulls double-duty as Mabel’s boyfriend as well as the film’s Director. It contains one of the earliest examples of a young damsel (Normand) tied to the tracks of an oncoming locomotive train. The rescue chase is thrilling, and the ending left me jaw-dropped stunned.

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