the REEL WORLD: 1914

Tillie's Punctured Romance

This is generally regarded as the first feature-length comedy ever produced. Starring Marie Dressler, Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, and the Keystone Cops, it's about a large, homely, wealthy woman named Tillie (Dressler), who is wooed by Charlie the City Slicker (Chaplin) solely for her money. Charlie's girlfriend is actually Mabel (Normand), who is also keen for Tillie's fortune.

Charlie convinces Tillie to come with him to the city; just before they leave, Charlie steals a large wad of Tillie's father's cash. He gets Tillie drunk, and she is thrown in jail while he takes off with Mabel and the money. (As Tillie is being carted away, she is escorted off a curb; her little jump from the sidewalk to the street is hilarious.) Later, Tillie's uncle goes mountain climbing and is reported dead. Word gets into the newspapers that Tillie, now working as a waitress because she is too embarrassed to go home, has inherited her uncle's considerable estate. Charlie immediately finds her and proposes marriage again; after they have moved into the uncle's estate, Mabel manages to become employed as a maid there. The uncle, not dead at all, returns, and in come the Keystone Cops to throw everyone out. Eventually Mabel and Tillie agree that Charlie is a terrible cad.

It's strange to see Chaplin in a film in which he didn't have creative control. Mack Sennett directed this one, as he did many of Marie Dressler's comedies, and Chaplin's scheming cad is utterly different from his poignant, soulful Little Tramp. The Silents Majority Web site, showing a still photo of Chaplin and Dressler, notes that this film was the last in which Chaplin allowed anyone else to direct him. Chaplin spends much of the movie wearing a large, forced, "nothing to see here move along" grin. Dressler is perfect as the wronged "heiress" -- although she was heavy and not at all beautiful, she was one of Hollywood's most popular stars, later winning an Oscar for her work in Min and Bill (1930). Normand is stylish and appealing, and the Keystone Cops are their typical, over-the-top selves. Leonard Maltin calls this film a "curio," but I found it fun and genuinely entertaining.

David Pierce's review at the Silent Film Sources Web site contains some interesting details about the film's sets and theatrical influences.


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Emily Way (emily@vex.net)
Last updated July 9, 1998