The Vintagent Classics: The films that inspired us. 


Run Time: 23:22
Producer: Keystone Film Company
Director: Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett
Writer: Charles Chaplin
Key Cast: Charles Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Harry McCoy


Mabel at the Wheel is a 1914 Keystone Studios slapstick comedy produced by Mack Sennett, written and directed by Mabel Normand. It was the first two-reel film starring Charlie Chaplin (credited as Charles Chaplin)

The Keystone Comedy Studio was built on nonsense and slapstick, a product of the fertile, perhaps warped, mind of Mack Sennett. How curious, then, to think that the foundation of Keystone’s success was a small dramatic actress by the name of Mabel Normand. Mack, and his partners, promised her dramatically-oriented comedies to match her classical training. While many of her films with Keystone were slapstick, her main job was to create what Chaplin called the ‘pulchritudinous influence’, which would afford balance to the otherwise zany pictures. Until Mabel, Keystone films had merely been situation comedies, but Mabel took the studio further, crafting equal parts drama and comedy into complex and endearing story lines.


Chaplin plays a villain, a Dutch immigrant (a character made famous by Ford Sterling, the star of Keystone, whom Chaplin had been asked to replace… and imitate, which he would not tolerate for long). Mabel Normand, meanwhile, is the girlfriend of a pilot (Harry McCoy). On the occasion of the Vanderbilt Cup, a famous car race which takes place in Santa Monica, Chaplin kidnaps Mabel’s boyfriend to prevent him from participating in the competition. But Mabel is not discouraged and gets into the car herself. In spite of all the attempts of sabotage of the perfidious little mustachian, she will manage to gain the final victory.

The story goes that Sennett asked Chaplin if he’d ever ridden a motorcycle, to which he answered “yes”, but it turned out he’d only ever ridden a pedal cycle. They began to shoot the scene where Chaplin takes Mabel for a ride on his motorcycle. Charlie was sitting on the 1912 Thor chain drive Model M Type IV , and Mabel climbed on. Charlie pushed off, the motor fired, Charlie gave it full throttle and the machine roared off. However, they’d only gone five yards before the thing went into a huge wobble. After a few high-speed seconds, Mabel was thrown from the bike, and cast unceremoniously into a ditch, in a flurry of Parisian petticoats. They later pried Charlie from among the wreckage of the cycle… – The making of Mabel At The Wheel


The making of Mabel At The Wheel
The life and times of Mabel Normand
Mabel, a motorcycle girl



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