Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Mickey (1918)

Mickey (1918)
seen online via YouTube

I had a vague understanding of who Mabel Normand was prior to reading Jeanine Basinger's book Silent Stars, but of course I had never seen any of her films. I knew she was an early comedic actress of note. That was about it. I doubt that even casual film fans know who she was, since she's not talked about as often as much as the big three of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd.

A former model, Normand first rose to prominence in films with actor/producer Mack Sennett, first at DW Griffith's Biograph, and in 1912, at Keystone, the studio Sennett co-founded. Later, Normand would be teamed up with Fatty Arbuckle for a successful run of films. Normand and Sennett formed a romantic relationship during this time that almost led to marriage, but not quite. In 1916, at Normand's request, Sennett formed a production company for her, where she hoped to make movies that would expand her range, and Mickey was the first film to come from this new company.

I didn't really grok much of Mickey. She plays the adopted tomboy daughter of a miner who gets sent east to live with rich relations in an effort to make her more of a lady. Some dude falls in love with her, there's some stuff about the mine, there's a horse race, and she ends up happily married, but I kinda got lost after she moves east. I didn't care about the dudes who fall for her; they both seemed interchangeable until one of them shows his true colors late in the film. I couldn't quite follow the stuff about the mine, either, because there's some sort of deception involved which didn't make any sense to me and isn't even revealed until the very end.

I did like Normand, however, and I liked watching her. She's adorable, for one thing. For another, she's not afraid to do physical comedy, the kind that guys like Chaplin (with whom she worked with) were famous for, from gags with animals like dogs and horses, to big chases. She had an exuberance that shows when she does things like dance or run. There's one scene where it looks like she's diving naked into a lake, but it's shot from so far away that one can't be entirely sure whether she's naked or not (but I think she is!).

Mickey was made as an attempt by Normand to do a Mary Pickford kind of movie - that is, a rags-to-riches Cinderella story where she goes from a rough-and-tumble tomboy to a glamour girl, and at the time of its release, it was a big hit. Afterwards, she left Sennett and signed with Goldwyn Pictures. Normand and Sennett argued throughout the production of Mickey in a battle for control. Mickey came out in 1918, but it was completed in 1917. Normand was acknowledged by the public as a comedic star, but she wasn't getting paid like one, hence the move to Goldwyn. She would return to Sennett after Goldwyn Pictures went under in 1920.

Normand's career declined in the 20s as the result of her connection to several industry scandals, excessive partying off-screen (including a spur-of-the-moment marriage made in a drunken stupor), and a bout of tuberculosis. She died in 1930 at the age of 37 without having ever made the transition to the sound era. Still, even though I wasn't that crazy about Mickey, she strikes me as having been a lively and fun actress.

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