Sunday 3 August 2008

Mabel's Wilful Way (1915)

Back in the early days of slapstick shorts, scripts often appeared on a single sheet of paper. They were less scripts and more guidelines, closer resembling something I remember doing in music class at school: writing a score by drawing lines or painting colours onto music paper to be interpreted by the musician. Here the lines or colours would be props that the cast would interpret. This one would have included keywords like fountain, merry go round, bear, ice cream, carnival slide etc, the camera would roll and everyone would improvise.

Mabel Normand is a young lady in a truly outrageous striped costume, who escapes from a boring dinner with her stuffy parents to roam around the park, getting tangle up with a couple of guys played by Fatty Arbuckle and Edgar Kennedy. They get up to the sort of antics you'd expect with the keywords mentioned above. Arbuckle gets onto the wrong side of a cop, while Kenedy gets onto the wrong side of Mabel's father. Naturally people get hit and fall down a lot.

There's nothing really new here, but it's a decent enough slapstick short, featuring a few names who made many such things. There's an interesting and surprisingly well done shot with footage run backwards, sending Fatty up the carnival slide to collect Mabel and come right back down again. There's also a scene that wouldn't have been dubious at the time but is now, with a man in blackface effectively being paid to stick his head through a hole so people can throw balls at him. It was good to see Edgar Kennedy getting more of a part than usual, as least as much screen time as Fatty Arbuckle. Al St John and Alice Davenport play supporting roles.

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