15 August 2005 | wmorrow59
Mabel's outfit is the star of the show
This Keystone comedy begins with one of the more intriguing introductory titles I've encountered: "Music and onions cause family discord." We soon get an explanation: Mabel Normand is sitting with her parents at an amusement park, and she's clearly unhappy. For one thing, there's a nearby band playing oompah music that makes her grimace, and for another thing her parents are stern and uptight, and it doesn't help that her mother is chewing on a sprig of raw onions. No wonder Mabel is unhappy, or that she seizes the earliest opportunity to flee and go off to enjoy the day on her own.
We next meet Roscoe Arbuckle and Edgar Kennedy, a pair of "short- funded pals" who are strolling through the park basically cruising for chicks -- and I'll bet that phrase was already in use in 1915! It isn't long before Roscoe has made an enemy of cop Joe Bordeaux, while Edgar manages to antagonize Mabel's father. Working fast, Roscoe makes time with Mabel, buying two ice cream cones with a coin he has swiped from the ice cream vendor's own cash register. In the zoo, they toss their ice cream to a bear who eats it happily, then head for a giant slide, where Mabel (somewhat obscurely) becomes offended and departs. Roscoe has another run-in with Joe the cop, Edgar and Mabel meet up and flirt, Roscoe offends Mabel's mother, and so it goes.
As my description is meant to suggest this is a very casual effort, mildly amusing on its own terms but not especially memorable. Viewers accustomed to the more polished comedies of the 1920s produced by the likes of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Laurel & Hardy, etc., may find they have to readjust their expectations for these earlier Keystone films, which were obviously made quickly and spontaneously. We enjoy the antics of the performers but the plotting is totally off-the-cuff, and the characters behave in inexplicable ways. For example, the cop in this movie takes an instant, unmotivated dislike to Roscoe and clubs him with no provocation, then follows him through the park looking for any excuse to beat him. If Mabel's Wilful Way had been made a few years later the filmmakers surely would have come up with a better reason for the cop's wrath, but at this early stage in the game they didn't bother with such niceties as logical behavior; the idea was to get the players fighting as soon as possible, and make the falls funny.
There are a few points of interest here for buffs. For starters, Mabel wears a fascinating outfit, a long dress of black-and-white vertical stripes with a blouse of horizontal stripes, topped with a truly bizarre hat better seen than described. There's some nice cinematography of Edgar Kennedy riding a merry-go-round, and later, in the giant slide sequence, some experimentation with footage run backward. There's also one of those moments that reminds us that life has changed a lot since 1915, sometimes for the better: it comes during a sequence on the carnival midway in which Kennedy pays a nickel to throw baseballs at a man sticking his head through a hole in a canvas. The man wears minstrel show makeup, black-face that is, although it's unclear whether we're supposed to accept him as an African American, or as a white guy in black-face. Either way, it's a brief bit and nothing much comes of it, but it's the kind of thing that makes people gasp today. We've come a long way, baby.