Mabel's Blunder (1914)
Directed by Mabel Normand
Produced by Mack Sennett
Written by Mabel Normand
Starring Mabel Normand
Al St. John
Keystone Film Company
Distributed by Mutual Film
August 14, 1914
Country United States
Mabel's Blunder (1914) is a silent comedy film directed by, written by, and starring Mabel Normand, the most successful of the early silent screen comediennes.
Mabel's Blunder tells the tale of a young woman who is secretly engaged to the boss's son. The young man's sister comes to visit at their office, and a jealous Mabel, not knowing who the visiting woman is, dresses up as a (male) chauffeur to spy on them.
Produced at Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios, known at the time as "The Fun Factory", Mabel's Blunder showcases Normand's spontaneous and intuitive playfulness and her ability to be both romantically appealing and boisterously funny.
The film is a two-reel comedy about a lady who is engaged to the boss' son, though no one else knows it. When another lady comes to work and the boss pays her lots of attention, Mabel is jealous and dresses up as the son's chauffeur to spy on them. At the same time, Mabel's brother (St. John) is dressed up as Mabel and the boss begins to make the moves on him/her. It's one of the earlier cross-dressing comedies I've seen and is good for a few laughs.
This is the one Mabel Normand movie from 1914 I’ve seen which does not also star Charlie Chaplin. It’s not slapstick, but more of a situational comedy along the lines of “Troublesome Secretaries.” Mabel is in love with her co-worker, the son of the boss, but the boss is also sweet on her. When she thinks her beau is cheating on her, she switches clothes with her brother so she can spy on him. The boss sees her brother in her clothes, and mistakes him for her, asking her out to the same place the younger man has taken the mysterious other woman. Hilarity ensues when Mabel’s boy thinks she (as a man) is hitting on his sister, the girl who Mabel was jealous of, and when the boss’s wife catches him out with a boy dressed up as a girl.
Overall, I don’t find the situational style of silent comedy holds up as well as the more physical approach, because there’s too much guessing what’s being said by whom, but this movie does invite some interesting speculations on the use of gender in comedy. As in Shakespeare’s time, the idea of men and women switching roles is an opportunity for confusion and laughter, which is resolved when everyone resumes his or her proper biological role. This sort of comedy still works today, suggesting that the gender order remains strong.
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