When Tillie (Mabel Normand) meets Charlie (Charlie Chaplin), a good-looking stranger visiting her small town from the big city, she’s immediately smitten by him. Even though Charlie is a real womanizer, Tillie isn’t the best looking woman so he isn’t terribly interested at first. But then he finds out she comes from a very rich family and suddenly, he’s very interested. He talks her into coming with him back to the city so they can elope and she agrees. But when they get back to the city, Charlie runs into his former girlfriend Mabel (Mabel Normand). He wants to get back together with Mabel, but really wants Tillie’s money, so he conspires to get Tillie’s purse away from her.
Charlie’s big plan to get Tillie’s purse is to get her drunk at a restaurant. His plan works and he runs of with Mabel and Tillie’s money, while Tillie gets arrested. Meanwhile, Tillie’s wealthy uncle is off on a mountain climbing excursion and when an accident happens, he’s believed to be dead. Since Tillie is her uncle’s sole heir, she stands to inherit millions. News of her inheritance makes headlines and when Charlie sees the newspaper, he wants to marry Tillie.
After their wedding, Charlie and Tillie move into her uncle’s spacious mansion together, but Charlie hasn’t given up on his womanizing ways — Mabel is now working as their maid. While they’re having a big party, Tillie catches Charlie and Tillie together, she’s outraged and starts firing a gun around (not harming anyone). The party descends into madness that only gets worse when they have a surprise visitor: Tillie’s uncle, who isn’t actually dead. He wants everyone out of his house and he and chases Tillie, Charlie, and Mabel out of the house with help from the cops. When Tillie is chased off a pier and starts to drown, Mabel rescues her. Once they’re back on dry land, Mabel and Tillie both decide they can do better than Charlie and become good friends, leaving Charlie behind.
Tillie’s Punctured Romance is a classic of madcap, slapstick silent film comedy. There’s so much chaos and physical comedy, this movie is practically the definition of “slapstick.” It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you want a taste of the type of movies Mack Sennett and Keystone were known for during this era, Tillie’s Punctured Romance is a good choice. Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand were staple stars of this era for Mack Sennett’s Keystone studio and it’s noteworthy for being the film debut of Marie Dressler. All three stars are fantastic in it.
The character Chaplin plays is not his signature Little Tramp character; the Little Tramp was always charming and likable in some way. The character he plays here is a rather unlikable lout, which makes the ending to the movie a very happy one indeed. In terms of Chaplin’s career, this was a hugely important movie. It was the first feature length film he made and would be the last time he would ever be directed by anyone other than himself.