Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Furs (USA,1912)

This film is a rare surviving silent short made by Mabel Normand and Mack Sennett at Biograph studios, which was released in 1912, only some months before Keystone studios was founded by Sennett in California.
Despite being at the height of her youth and vitality, Mabel`s acting is more restrained here than it would be in her subsequent Keystone slapstick comedies, which is adequate to the slower pace of this film. Still, we can see here some trademarks of future output of Keystone studios, especially by portraying Mabel as an intelligent woman, with some independence and strength of character, which is a contrast with Victorian women, damsels in distress who were totally dependent of their male guardians.
Mabel is a spendthrift and her mother-in-law does not agree with her extravagance, while her husband tries to please both Mabel and his mother. It is clear that both women do not really get along, but they have to live very close (or perhaps even in the same house) and it causes conflicts on a daily basis.  Mabel shows that she is not the type of wife who would tolerate a bossy mother-in-law without fighting back.
Mabel is not satisfied with the interference of her mother-in-law and goes shopping anyway. Upon her return, Mabel clashes with her mother-in-law again.  Meanwhile, her husband is running out of patience with all this conflict at home.
On the following day, Mabel gets some money out of her husband`s pocket without his knowledge. He realizes the money is missing, but does not attribute it to Mabel and thinks he lost it somewhere else. He stands up to have breakfast, only to see Mabel and his mother arguing again. Therefore, he says that “one must leave”.
Mabel sees some beautiful furs in a shop window and finds them simply gorgeous. Then she had the idea of pawning her furs, but unfortunately her plan would not have the result she expected, as the furs she wanted so much ended up going to her mother-in-law. And Mabel does not disguise how furious she really is.
This cute little film shows two legends of cinema (Sennett and Mabel) in the beginning of their careers in films and their unique comedic style could already be observed. It is also interesting that Biograph`s films by the duo tended to focus more in the lives of wealthier citizens (even Mabel`s clothing and hat were more elaborate than those she usually wore in her subsequent characters in Keystone films). Such paradigm would be deeply changed at Keystone studios, famous for showing the lives of working-class citizens.

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