A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1914 – Mabel’s Strange Predicament
I really saw no other choice with this one.
No matter what movie came out in 1914, all pale in comparison, historically, to the fact that 1914 is the year Charlie Chaplin made his first film, and the year Charlie Chaplin introduced the character of the Tramp to cinema. I’m pretty sure the Tramp is one of the fifteen most iconic characters in the history of movies. In 1920, Charlie Chaplin was the most famous person in the entire world. Because his character transcended language. Which is the beauty of silent comedy. You could understand it no matter where you were.
Now, I’m not gonna talk about the film itself, because Mabel’s Strange Predicament is not a particularly memorable movie. We spend most of the time with Mabel, and we don’t really care about Mabel. We care about Chaplin. Because the Tramp, like the most watchable parts of all movies, is a wild card. You don’t know what he’s going to do at any given moment in time. Which is why, no matter what’s happening on screen, you will always watch a baby or an animal, because you don’t know what either is going to do. That’s what makes the Tramp so great. Plus, everything he does is hilarious.
Basically, the Tramp is drunk all film, and runs into Mabel, and she gets locked out of her hotel room, and ends up in someone else’s room, and they come back… it’s really not important.
What is important to note is that this was technically the second Tramp film ever released to the public. It was shot first, but Kid Auto Races at Venice was the first Tramp film to be distributed. That’s always worth mentioning, because some people may consider either one to be the first official Tramp movie. I’m choosing this one.
This is how Chaplin explained creating the Tramp in his autobiography:
“I had no idea what makeup to put on. I did not like my get-up as the press reporter. However on the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennet had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small mustache, which I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression. I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the makeup made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born.”
Now, we all know how huge a fan I am of the movie Chaplin. I thought Robert Downey Jr. was mesmerizing as Chaplin, and probably deserved to win an Oscar for it. (Though it was a tough year, and I’ll spare that discussion for now.) And the moment in that film, when Chaplin creates the Tramp, was so beautifully (and simply) portrayed that it makes me emotional every time I see it. It’s so wonderful.
And of course, the Tramp would go on to become what it became. Many shorts, multiple films, one of the most lasting characters in all of cinema. Chaplin was a true artist.