14 May 2004 | Snow Leopard
Unrefined, But Fairly Enjoyable, With More Substance Than It Seems At First
It is quite easy to find several ways in which "Mabel's Dramatic Career" could have been much better, but even as it is, most of the time it's at least fairly enjoyable to watch. Its self-referential look at cinema and reality is really more interesting than the story itself. The film in itself is worth seeing mostly for the cast: Mabel Normand is always charming even when the material is not that good, Ford Sterling can be counted on to give an enjoyably exaggerated performance, and Roscoe Arbuckle gets a couple of good moments here. Mack Sennett's own performance is rather goofy, although that was at least partially determined by his fatuous character.
The story starts off slowly, and the first part is, honestly, neither especially entertaining nor very good. The feature would have been much better if this whole part had been considerably abridged. The second part is better, even if it too is exaggerated and unrefined. Sennett somewhat overplays his character, and the sequence would have been even more entertaining with a bit more restraint, but even so things hold together fairly well, thanks mostly to the cast.
The way that Sennett's character overreacts to the action in a movie seems at first just silly, but upon reflection, it's a little more interesting. For all that we today can smile at early cinema-goers who had a hard time distinguishing film and reality (a subject portrayed more ingeniously in, for example, the very early feature "The Countryman and the Cinematograph"), today's audiences are really no less impressionable. A great many viewers still form many opinions of history, public figures, current issues, and other subjects from movies or television shows that are based more on the film-makers' own emotions or pet beliefs than on anything with significant factual value. The details may be different, but this basic similarity makes long-ago features such as "Mabel's Dramatic Career" seem a little more interesting.