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Film / Mabel's Strange Predicament

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Mabel's Strange Predicament is a 1914 film starring Mabel Normand and Charlie Chaplin, directed by Normand. In this film Mabel is a well-to-do lady (if her fancy dress is any indication) who is staying at a hotel with her fiance. Mabel has also brought along her dog, and when she happens to step outside the door to her hotel room in her pajamas, the dog pushes the door shut, leaving her trapped outside. A panicked Mabel then dives into the opposite room and hides from the occupant, a husband whose wife has gone off to complain about all the noise Mabel has been making.

This ten-minute short, one of hundreds made by Keystone Studios during this era, is remembered today as the first on-screen appearance of Chaplin's iconic character, The Tramp.note  It was the second film for Chaplin, the new hire at Keystone, whose debut film Making a Living had been a disappointment. Versions of the story differ, but apparently Chaplin more or less on the spot invented the character of the Tramp—bowler hat, undersized coat and vest, oversized pants and shoes, and rattan cane. By the end of 1914, Chaplin had appeared in the costume in over 30 films and become a massive star. He would wear that same costume in almost every film he made for the next 22 years.

This film provides examples of:

  • Canine Companion: Mabel has taken her dog with her on vacation, which proves a costly decision when the dog locks her out of her room.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Charlie's character makes a nuisance of himself by hitting on Mabel and all the other women in the lobby, and later chasing a pajama-clad Mabel around the hallway.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Played for laughs as the man from the other room is violently assaulted by his wife after the wife catches Mabel hiding under the bed.
  • Embarrassing Pyjamas: Mabel is wearing pajamas that reveal absolutely nothing, but she acts like she's naked in the middle of Main Street.
  • Farce: More this than Slapstick, as the humor mostly derives from comic misunderstandings after Mabel gets locked out of her room.
  • Fully-Clothed Nudity: Played straight. When Mabel is locked out, she is wearing baggy, shapeless pajamas that cover her from neck to ankle, yet she freaks out from embarrassment as if she were nude.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Mabel, outside in her pajamas, winds up hiding under a strange man's bed. Her boyfriend and the man's wife both draw the wrong conclusion.
  • The Tramp: Sort of. Chaplin invented the costume for this film and would wear it almost unchanged for two decades. However, the character as he appears in this film doesn't appear to be a tramp. He is evidently a paying guest of the hotel, as he isn't thrown out for being a drunken nuisance in the lobby, and he has enough money to bribe a bellhop. He is also somewhat different in manner than the Tramp was in later films, here being an obnoxious drunk. In fact, while this character looks like the Tramp, he actually acts like "the inebriate", the character Chaplin played in a vaudeville review show that got him hired by Keystone.