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The Fatal Mallet (1914)

A damsel, Mabel (Mabel Normand), finds herself among three suitors, Charles Chaplin being one of them. The three men are willing to throw hands over this beautiful young woman, and Chaplin’s “Mabel’s Rival Suitor” is willing to do whatever it takes to win her affection. He throws bricks, attacks the other men with a massive mallet, and assaults children, just to prove to Mabel that he loves her. The Fatal Mallet sees an all-out comedic war occur, and as Mabel lies in wait to see who will take her hand, an unsuspecting suitor will arrive, ready to claim the prize from themselves.

Simple slapstick comedy, that’s what Chaplin brings to the table each and every time. The Fatal Mallet is no exception to what fans of the Tramp have come to expect from him. He’s wildly funny, energetic, and brilliantly entertaining–all the things that Chaplin has excelled at throughout the course of his career are present in The Fatal Mallet as well. However, this short film occurred toward the beginning of his career, helping to not just ease him into the grand scheme of the growing Hollywood, but throwing him right into the mix of the new, but powerful artform.

Cinematography in 1914 was nothing like it is today, and if you expect something comparable to modern filmmaking, you’re in for some disappointment. With that being said, The Fatal Mallet finds a way to piece together a series of very short clips to make something a tad longer and more cohesive (i.e. When someone gets hit in the head with a brick, it’s clear that one choppy shot ends and the next begins, attempting to be folded into one another–and while it doesn’t necessarily work in comparison to what viewers may hope for in modern cinema, it works well enough for the early twentieth century). As a self-proclaimed cinephile, having seen all that I’ve seen, the less-than-adequate editing is somewhat laughable. It’s not laughable to the point that you’d discredit the film, but almost silly–adding to the comedic nature of The Fatal Mallet. However, in the grand scheme of 1910’s cinema, The Fatal Mallet, and the team behind piecing together this slapstick comedy, fares well.

There’s almost always a message present in film, whether it’s right out in the open or hidden beneath the surface. However, I feel as if Chaplin’s films don’t often come right out and tell you the underlying message, often begging viewers to dig a little deeper–but The Fatal Mallet comes right out and says what it’s meant to convey. Beyond the brilliant, in-your-face comedy, The Fatal Mallet presents viewers with an in-your-face message as well. It reminds viewers that the threat you should be aware of may be just in front of you. The message adds another dimension to the film, begging viewers to not only appreciate the beauty of Chaplin’s comedic prowess, but all that he and Co-Writer Mack Sennett bring to the table in terms of writing.

If you don’t like or appreciate Chaplin’s comedy, well…I feel bad for you, but I don’t necessarily blame you. His sort of comedy is one that is often lost on modern audiences, and that’s because it is far different than what one might see in the twenty-first century. However, if Chaplin’s comedy is something that generally entertains you, The Fatal Mallet is sure to tickle your fancy. The film is fun from beginning to end, and there’s no guessing as to what is happening or what the purpose of the film is. The Fatal Mallet is good old-fashioned fun that you can sit back and enjoy with no strings attached. The obvious message is wonderful, but the nearly perfect comedy of the genius Chaplin is something for the ages.

Directed by Mack Sennett.

Written by Charles Chaplin & Mack Sennett.

Starring Charles Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett, Mack Swain, & Gordon Griffith.




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