johnlink ranks TILLIE’S PUNCTURED ROMANCE (1914)

This movie is 99 years old. That blows me away. We’re getting close to the point where we will be able to look back on more-and more surviving movies which are more than a century old. I guess the exact age doesn’t matter, but it is a reminder of both how rich film history is, but also how briefly the art-form has been with us compared to many other mediums. TILLIE’S PUNCTURED ROMANCE was the first feature-length comedy filmed. It is also one of the few silent films we have where Chaplin is not playing The Tramp.


I watched TILLIE’S PUNCTURED ROMANCE (1914) on 5.16.13. It was my first viewing of the film.

The story here is fairly straight forward. Chaplin plays the City Stranger who is wandering through the countryside when he is hit in the head by a large object thrown by Tillie (Marie Dressler). She takes him in to her home where he sees his father enact a transaction with someone. Chaplin convinces Tillie to take the money and run away with him to the city.

Once there, Chaplin reunites with a woman he loves (as much as this character can), Mabel (Mabel Normand). He leaves Tillie until he finds out that her drunk uncle is a millionaire and dead, thus leaving here the sole heir. He runs back to Tillie, convincing her to marry him before she finds out he’s rich. Married, though not quite happily, Chaplin gets caught smooching with Mabel at a party, and Tillie starts chasing them around with a gun which apparently has a hundred bullets in it. The Keystone Cops join the chase when Tillie’s not-actually-dead uncle calls them in.

This movie had blemishes, to be sure. Being the first feature length comedy, there was a certain repetition of beats and beatings which didn’t always improve on previous scenes. The climactic chase, with the Keystone Cops, Charlie, Tillie, and Mabel chasing each other around is an escalation of the comedy, and really serves as a nice final piece. There wasn’t a ton of nuance in this, with the acting closer to the staged vaudeville takes than to the more nuanced work which developed into a specific silent-acting style by the end of the era. The mugging for the camera here is non-stop. It doesn’t make it less enjoyable per se, but there are certainly takes which would have been edited out of a film made in 1024 rather than 1914.

This movie holds a very important place in film history for multiple reasons. Being the first comedy feature makes this, obviously,  a landmark piece of history. Being a Chaplin silent comedy where he doesn’t play The Tramp is also rare (especially since he is playing a character who is as close to a villain as this movie has). The first Keystone Cops feature is historic, though they don’t feature prominently until the last ten minutes. This was indeed the first time I’d seen a Keystone Cops movie beginning to end at all, and I was laughing at the physical comedy frequently. This was also produced and directed by comedy legend Mack Sennett, and there are rumors that Fatty Arbuckle also helped direct some of the scenes.

I was impressed by some of the camera set-ups, especially with some of the angles captured for chase scenes. I was impressed by the level of physical comedy. I was impressed, as always, by Chaplin’s comedic timing.

Does it stand up as a movie to watch today? For its novelty, it absolutely does (this came out a year before THE BIRTH OF A NATION, remember). As far as Chaplin comedies go, there are certainly plenty of examples to start with (most notably GOLD RUSH and MODERN TIMES) for someone looking to get into Chaplin. The comedy in TILLIE’S PUNCTURED ROMANCE is not sophisticated, but it doesn’t pretend to be. It is slapstick complete with kicks in the rear and people falling over the same rug a dozen times. It is charming, to be sure, but it isn’t necessary viewing except for its historical significance.





~ by johnlink00 on May 17, 2013.

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