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Mabel's Wilful Way

Mabel's Wilful Way(1915)

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teaser Mabel's Wilful Way (1915)

In this silent short, a young woman escapes dinner with her parents for wild times at a nearby fair.

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Mabel's Wilful Way (1915)

Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was one of the greats of silent comedy, as popular in his day as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Unfortunately, a 1921 scandal, involving the death of a young starlet (Virginia Rappe) following one of Arbuckle's parties, abruptly ended his career and turned public opinion against him. Arbuckle was charged with rape and manslaughter and though he was eventually acquitted, his career was ruined.

Arbuckle got his start, like most performers of that time, in vaudeville. He went to work for Mack Sennett at Keystone Studios in 1913, where he appeared in countless short films. TCM is highlighting six of Arbuckle's Keystone comedies (both one and two reelers), all from 1915.

Fatty and Mabel's Simple Life (1915) - In this silent short, a farmhand defies his boss to court the man's daughter.

Producer: Mack Sennett
Director: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle
Cast: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (Roscoe), Mabel Normand (Mabel), Al St. John (The Squire's son), Josef Swickard (Mabel's Father).

Fatty's Chance Acquaintance (1915) co-stars Arbuckle's real life wife Minta Durfee but she doesn't play his wife in the film. Billie Bennett appears as Fatty's domineering wife, who becomes the target of a purse-snatcher. Durfee strikes Fatty's fancy as the girlfriend of the thief. Arbuckle and Durfee met in 1908 when they were both hired as summer performers at a Long Beach hotel. They would marry at the end of the season on August 6, 1908. When Arbuckle signed with Keystone in 1913, Durfee went with him. Her first film was Fatty's Day Off (1913); she and her husband would co-star in at least forty films over the next few years. Durfee also had a role in Chaplin's first film, 1914's Making a Living. She stuck by Arbuckle through the scandal, though the couple did separate and in 1925, their divorce was made official. Durfee virtually disappeared from Hollywood for twenty years. She turned up again in the forties and continued to play minor roles into the 1970s in films such as The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), How Green Was My Valley (1941), An Affair to Remember (1957) and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). Minta Durfee lived to be 86 years old; she died September 9, 1975.

Producer: Mack Sennett
Director: Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle
Cast: Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle (Fatty), Billie Bennett (Fatty's wife), Harry McCoy (Pickpocket), Minta Durfee (Pickpocket's girlfriend), Frank Hayes (Cop), Glen Cavender (Man in park).

by Stephanie Thames

Mabel's Wilful Way (1915) is a silent farce starring the great team-up of Mabel Normand and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Mabel is a girl trying to take a break from her overbearing, uncouth parents while on a jaunt at an amusement park. Two cash-strapped pals, played by Arbuckle and Edgar Kennedy (a veteran character actor who would later tussle with the likes of Laurel & Hardy and the Marx Brothers), enter the picture and begin a romp through the park, annoying cops, vendors and Mabel's parents alike.

The comedy short was a Keystone Film Company production, distributed by Mutual Film Corporation and produced by Mack Sennett. A pioneer of quick, cheap and popular film comedies, Sennett was strictly a craftsman. He was certainly not an artist on the scale of a Buster Keaton or his former contract player, Charlie Chaplin. Sennett did have an eye for talent, however, and he was smart enough to nurture it, or at the very least, keep that talent in front of the camera until the public demanded more of him or her. The most important "her" in Sennett's earlier days was Mabel Normand.

Normand was the most talented and unique of America's silent screen comediennes. The paying public adored her, and her colleagues loved working with her. She had that certain something that came to be known as star quality. She figured out early on that the power of film acting was not in the exaggerated movement of the body, but in the sublime subtlety of the eyes. Mabel's eyes are expressively mischievous in Mabel's Wilful Way. Watch her give a sly glance to the camera when she wrangles Arbuckle into paying for her ice cream cone, as if she's bringing the viewer in on the ruse. She wasn't the first to directly address the camera or break down that proverbial fourth wall, but what she did do was elevate the Mack Sennett brand of comedy from rambunctious knock-about shtick into a star-driven vehicle for the special talents of someone like Normand, Arbuckle and later Chaplin.

That's not to say that Mabel's Wilful Way is like an Ibsen play. There's plenty of physical slapstick in the film, mostly from the mirthful girth of Mabel's co-star, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Roscoe was a Sennett player who stood out from the crowd immediately because of two traits that in lesser men would be mutually exclusive: physical size and natural athleticism. Despite hovering between 250 and 275 pounds, Arbuckle was a prime acrobat, tumbler, sprinter, diver, and swimmer (he frequently took mile-long swims in the Pacific, often with Normand). He was the most capable athlete on the Keystone lot, and was the only member of the Keystone Cops who was never injured performing any of the numerous stunts throughout the years. He wasn't just strong and solid. Arbuckle was agile with amazing flexibility. He had to be, in order to move as gracefully as he did in front of the camera. (Much later, actress Louise Brooks remembered that dancing with Arbuckle was like dancing with a floating doughnut.) In Mabel's Wilful Way, this floating doughnut provides two massive pratfalls that require re-watching in slow motion, just to see how he pulled them off without injuring himself.

When Sennett teamed up Mabel and Roscoe, the partnership proved to be a durable success. Of the sixty-six films Mabel Normand shot from June 1913 to May 1916, thirty-six were with Arbuckle. It was a chemistry that spelled big money for Sennett. He said at the time, "There is perhaps not a superior combination on earth from the standpoint of good comedy to Miss Normand and Roscoe Arbuckle." But the professional coupling wasn't just a blessing for Sennett and delighted audiences. It became a strong and lasting friendship between Mabel and Arbuckle and his wife, another Sennett player, Minta Durfee. You can see this natural and sweet rapport between the two in Mabel's Wilful Way during the scene set next to the bear cages. When Normand fell on very hard times and her career ended, and even after he himself fell on even harder times, Arbuckle remained loyal to Normand until she died from tuberculosis in 1930.

During pre-production, Mabel's Wilful Way was referred to as an "Idora Park Story." Idora Park stood as the shooting location for the entire one-reel comedy. It is such a delightful location, that it is easy to glance away from the shenanigans going on for the camera and take in the sights of Idora Park. (In one scene, you can spot a spectator in a clump of thick trees, trying to get a close look at Arbuckle performing for the camera.) The park was a Victorian-era trolley park in North Oakland, California from the 1890's until 1929. What began as a pleasure ground in a rural setting for Sunday picnics and an opera house evolved over time into the finest amusement park in that part of the San Francisco Bay. It featured such novelties as a large roller-skating rink, a slide, a roller coaster, a scenic railway, a merry-go-round, an amphitheater, a movie house, a large restaurant, an auto racecourse, and several other midway attractions (including a bear pit, which Arbuckle and Normand stand next to during one scene). Vaudeville performers often used Idora Park stages, including a not-quite-ready-for-primetime-film-stardom, Roscoe Arbuckle.

Director: Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett
Cast: Mabel Normand (Mabel), Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle (Fatty), Joe Bordeaux (Cop), Glen Cavender, Alice Davenport (Mabel's mother), Edgar Kennedy (Fatty's pal).

by Scott McGee

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