A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Tillie's Punctured Romance (Mack Sennett, 1914)

Tillie's Punctured Romance was Mack Sennett's first venture into feature-length production, and perhaps the first feature-length comedy ever made. Despite the later reputation of Charles Chaplin, it was designed as a starring vehicle and film debut for Marie Dressler, then the much bigger star. It was adapted from her Broadway hit, Tillie's Nightmare, and Dressler claimed that it was she who persuaded Sennett to cast Chaplin as her leading man. Adding Sennett's then-lover Mabel Normand, who also had a hand in developing Chaplin's early career, created a wonderful dynamic, but the teaming was never repeated: Chaplin's ambitions led him into writing and directing his own films; Normand and Sennett split in 1918, and her career suffered from her drug addiction and association with director William Desmond Taylor, whose murder in 1922 caused a scandal; Dressler was unable to establish a film career after the failure of two short films in which she also played Tillie, though she returned to the screen in 1927 after a nine-year absence. It's a shame, because Dressler was one of the few comic actresses capable of upstaging Chaplin, as their scenes together demonstrate. She had a rare gift for over-the-top physical comedy, which was Sennett's forte. For this anarchic comery, he marshaled all of his regular company, including Mack Swain and Chester Conklin, as well as the Keystone Kops, without ever eclipsing Dressler. Later in her career, Dressler would evoke pathos as well as laughs, but Sennett never lets Tillie be anything but a clown, except at the very ending, when she and Mabel share in their triumph over Chaplin's con man.