Marie Dressler

Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914)

Tillie's Punctured Romance 1914

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.

The Patsy (1928)

Marion Davies The Patsy

Pat Harrington (Marion Davies) is an awkward young woman who always feels like the odd one out. Her mother (Marie Dressler) clearly favors Pat’s older sister Grace (Jane Winton) and Pat’s father (Dell Henderson) doesn’t approve of the way Pat is treated, but his wife is too domineering to listen to anything he has to say. Grace always seems so elegant and sophisticated and has no problem attracting attention from men, making Pat feel like even more of an outcast in her own family. Grace has been dating Tony (Orville Caldwell) and while Tony adores her, Grace is hardly loyal. Pat is in love with Tony, but he’s too wrapped up in Grace to notice.

Pat wants nothing more in the world than to be noticed by Tony and get treated with more respect. When she manages to spend some time with Tony alone after a party, she laments that men never seem to notice her and he says men like a woman with personality So she decides to take his advice and gets some books on how to develop a personality, which involves going around saying odd platitudes in hopes of sounding smart and witty, but she really makes no sense. Her family is absolutely dumbstruck by Pat’s strange behavior and think she’s gone crazy. But when her father realizes what’s going on, he encourages her to keep up the act.

Of course, Pat tries to use her new “personality” to win over Tony and he likes Pat. After all, she shows more of a genuine interest in him than Grace or anyone else in the family. But when Grace sees that Pat has designs on Tony — and is actually winning him over — she makes a point to put a stop to it. So when Pat sees Grace leave with Tony, she goes to see Billy (Lawrence Gray), another man Grace has been seeing, so she can make it seem like she’s in trouble and Tony can save her from it. This time, she ends up pushing her entire family a little too far, but it all works out in the end.

The Patsy is, in my opinion, one of the all-time great silent comedies that doesn’t get the amount of credit it deserves. It’s a completely and totally delightful film; the sort of movie I can put on when I’ve had a bad day and it always cheers me up. It’s by far one of the best movies Marion Davies ever made and is a fine example of why she ought to be considered one of the best comedic actresses of the silent era. The scene where Marion impersonates other big silent film stars like Lillian Gish and Pola Negri is well worth the price of admission. Marion is, indeed, the star of the movie, but she has a lot of help from a wonderful supporting cast. They couldn’t have found a more perfect actress for Pat’s mother than Marie Dressler and Dell Henderson was spot-on as the put-upon father. I simply can’t think of a bad thing to say about this movie.

Let Us Be Gay 1930

Let Us Be Gay (1930)

After years of marriage, Kitty Brown (Norma Shearer) still adores her husband Bob (Rod La Rocque) and is faithfully devoted to him and their two children. She doesn’t dress stylishly and she doesn’t spend much time on hair or makeup, but she’s happy. At least, she’s happy until Bob’s mistress drops by the house one day. She’s heartbroken and wants nothing to do with him. But she’s not one to sit around and feel sorry for herself. After he divorce, Kitty gets a makeover and earns a reputation for being notorious maneater.

Three years after her divorce, Kitty is invited to spend a weekend at the home of Mrs. Bouccicault (Marie Dressler). Mrs. Boucciault’s granddaughter Diane (Sally Eilers) is engaged to be married to Bruce (Raymond Hackett), but is not-too-secretly seeing a man named Bob on the side. She invites Kitty because she’s practically an expert at stealing men away from women and asks her to work her magic on Bob. She agrees, not realizing Bob is her ex-husband.

Bob hasn’t seen Kitty since their divorce and he can barely recognize her as the woman he used to be married to. Although it’s an awkward reunion at first, but old feelings start to come back.

I liked Let Us Be Gay more than I expected to. At the time of writing this post, it gets 6.5 stars on IMDB, so really, a pretty average rating by IMDB standards. But it was a pretty entertaining little movie. I loved Norma in it. Seeing Norma play dowdy was certainly a fun surprise; she was hardly recognizable. But after Kitty has her makeover, we get to see Norma doing everything that makes me love her early 1930s roles. Marie Dressler was a lot of fun as the over-the-top Mrs. Bouccicault. And Sally Eilers was a real treat, especially in her drunk scenes. The ending was a bit of a letdown, but I had so much fun watching everything else leading up to that point, I still really like the movie on the whole.

Anna Christie (1930)

Anna Christie 1930 PosterWhen shew was five years old, Anna Christie (Greta Garbo) was sent to live with family on a farm in Minnesota.  Fifteen years pass and her father Chris (George F. Marion) has hardly made an effort to stay in touch with her.  Life in Minnesota hasn’t been easy for Anna.  Her family was cruel to her, she was raped by her cousin and she worked as a prostitute.  It’s all left her exhausted and extremely distrustful of men.  Finally she decides to get away from it all and sends her father letting him know that she’s coming to visit.

Chris is a barge captain who spends all his free time drinking and hanging around Marthy (Marie Dressler).  When Anna and Chris are finally reunited, they spend time together on Chris’ barge and begin to rebuild their relationship.  Anna even starts to enjoy living on the barge.  One night, Chris rescues a few sailors in distress and one of them, Matt (Charles Bickford), falls in love with Anna.  For the first time in years, Anna is finally finding a little happiness in her life.  However, Matt doesn’t know about Anna’s sordid past. Not even Chris knows the full extent of her life in Minnesota.  But when they find out the truth, can they still love and accept Anna?

“Give me a whiskey, ginger ale on the side.  And don’t be stingy, baby!” With those fourteen words, Greta Garbo successfully transitioned from the silent film era to the talkie era.  Garbo’s talkie debut in Anna Christie came a bit later than those of most other silent film stars.  She was such an important asset to MGM that it would have been a tremendous loss for them if she didn’t survive the transition to talkies.  The advent of talkies dealt a death blow to the careers of many actors and actresses from other countries because their accents were undesirable and MGM didn’t want Garbo to be one of the casualties.  They kept her in silents as long as possible, holding out for just the right talkie project.  Anna Christie turned out to be the perfect project for Garbo because her role called for a Swedish accent.

Some viewers might find Anna Christie dull because it is a very static movie without a lot of different sets or camera movement.  It’s an adaptation of a stage play and it does feel like a filmed version of a play.  However, Anna Christie is one of my favorite Garbo talkies.  First and foremost, I like the story so I don’t mind the static feel of the movie.  I really like Garbo in it; it’s one of my favorites of her sound films.  Anna is a weary woman and is there anyone who played weary better than Garbo?  And who can forget the wonderful Marie Dressler?  As great as Garbo is, Marie Dressler gave her a run for her money.  Dressler doesn’t get a lot of screen time in Anna Christie, but she sure made the most of the screen time she got.  Her scene with Garbo when Anna first arrives at the bar is one of my favorite scenes of Garbo’s career.

Movies That Could Have Been: The March of Time (1930)

Recently, I had the pleasure of revisiting the That’s Entertainment! trilogy.  As much as I love the first That’s Entertainment!, I love how much rare footage is featured in part three.  One of the movies discussed in part three is an abandoned project from 1930 called The March of Time.  The March of Time was intended to be a follow-up to The Hollywood Revue of 1929 and was set to be shot in two-color Technicolor and feature stars like Bing Crosby, Joan Crawford, Buster Keaton, Jimmy Durante, Ramon Novarro, and Marie Dressler.  Only unlike The Hollywood Revue of 1929, The March of Time seemed to have more of a central concept — the past, present, and future of entertainment.  A number of musical scenes were shot for the film, but then the project was scrapped and never completed.

I’m sure that if The March of Time had been completed, it’d be thought of as a historical curiosity today, but I kind of wish that it had been completed.  As awkward and creaky as they are, I sort of love early musical efforts.  They’re just so earnest that I can’t help but find them endearing.  Especially in cases like this where lots of top stars of the era were put together in one movie just because it’s interesting to see all those stars together.  I’d also be quite interested in seeing what they thought the future of entertainment would be.

Even though The March of Time was abandoned, some of the filmed scenes eventually ended up being included in other things.  You can find some of these scenes on YouTube, but I want to specifically highlight one scene called The Lock Step featuring The Dodge Twins:

What I want to know is if this number was supposed to be representing the present or the future of entertainment.  Because if this was supposed to be the future, then they were surprisingly accurate in predicting Elvis’ Jailhouse Rock number.