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First Comedy Feature + Early Lon Chaney: Cinecon Movies

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Tillie’s Punctured Romance Mabel Normand Charles Chaplin Marie DresslerTillie’s Punctured Romance with Marie Dressler, Charles Chaplin, and Mabel Normand. Based on Dressler’s 1910–11 Broadway musical comedy hit Tillie’s Nightmare, this Cinecon entry is known as the first ever feature-length comedy.
  • Cinecon overview part 5: Film historian Joseph Yranski provides a brief look at Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914) and Triumph (1917). Known as the first feature-length comedy ever made, the former stars Charles Chaplin, Marie Dressler, and Mabel Normand; the latter features a pre-stardom Lon Chaney alongside early star Dorothy Phillips.

Cinecon overview: Charles Chaplin & Marie Dressler in the first feature-length comedy + Lon Chaney in quasi-romantic role

Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

Note from the Editor: In this five-part article, New York City-based film historian and researcher Joseph Yranski, formerly associated with the New York Public Library’s Donnell Media Center, offers a brief overview of various movies screened at this year’s Cinecon.

Included below: Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914), Triumph (1917), Sky High (1922), and five shorts.

Held on Labor Day Weekend at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, Cinecon is a film festival chiefly devoted to decades-old, hard-to-find U.S. releases.

Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914)

The UCLA restoration of the Charles Chaplin-Marie Dressler feature Tillie’s Punctured Romance (Keystone) is interesting, if only to see how many different pre-prints were used to construct it. Still, longer isn’t necessarily better; the comedy is undeniably primitive while the movie has far too much of the overacting Dressler (future Best Actress Academy Award winner for Min and Bill, 1930–31).

Tillie’s Punctured Romance was my least favorite film of the whole festival. Also in the cast: Mabel Normand, Mack Swain, and Chester Conklin. Director: Mack Sennett.

Triumph (1917)

This early Lon Chaney film, rediscovered by collector George Wagner, has only the first three of its five reels. Even so, Triumph (Universal) is an intriguing backstage story with Dorothy Phillips as a promising actress who wants to “triumph” on the stage, while dissipated writer Chaney provides her with the opportunity in a play called Triumph.

Curious as an early Chaney – in a quasi-romantic role – but by no means can Triumph be called a great film. Also in the cast: William Stowell. Director: Joseph De Grasse.

Sky High (1922)

The Tom Mix classic Sky High (Fox Film Corporation) would have been entertaining if we had a nice 35mm print, but in the same crummy 16mm dupe we’ve had for years it was pretty weak. To make matters worse, a projector malfunction had the film running way too fast (calculate about 30 fps). It finished in about 35 minutes, so the action was ridiculously rushed.

Also in the cast: Eva Novak, J. Farrell MacDonald, and Sid Jordan. Director: Lynn Reynolds.

Short movies: Early Gregory La Cava + Charley Chase

A number of shorts were run at Cinecon as well. Below are listed five titles, in alphabetical order.

  • Abie Kabibble Outwitted His Rival (1917) is a minor cartoon directed by future two-time Academy Award nominee Gregory La Cava (My Man Godfrey, 1936; Stage Door, 1937). It was the first and last in what was supposed to be a series based upon the comic strips by Harry Hershfeld.
  • The Awful Goof (1939) is a long-unseen Charley Chase vehicle in which he keeps finding himself in compromising situations with the wife of a wrestler. The short is a funny remake of the silent Chase short Limousine Love (1928).
  • The Iron Claw (1941). Episodes 13–15 finished up the corny serial. (The lawyer did it!!) Cast: Charles Quigley and Joyce Bryant. Director: James W. Horne.
  • Rootin’ Tootin’ Tenderfeet (1952) is a Max Baer & Maxie Rosenbloom short that is a straight rip-off of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s Way Out West. It offers a few funny gags, but mostly it was painful. Director: Jules White.
  • The Sign of the Cucumber (1917) is a curious comedy Western about a sheriff and a look-alike outlaw who can only be distinguished by the cucumber birthmark on the sheriff’s arm. Silly, but fun. Cast: Robert McKenzie and Sky High actress Eva Novak. Director: Richard Smith.

“First Comedy Feature + Early Lon Chaney: Cinecon Movies” review text © Joseph Yranski; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes © Alt Film Guide.

“First Comedy Feature + Early Lon Chaney: Cinecon Movies” notes

Cinecon website.

Thought lost until fairly recently, Joseph De Grasse’s Triumph was screened alongside George B. Seitz’s The Blood Ship – a 1927 release featuring Richard Arlen, Hobart Bosworth, and Jacqueline Logan – at the October 2007 edition of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ “Lost and Found” series.

Mabel Normand, Charles Chaplin, and Marie Dressler Tillie’s Punctured Romance movie image: Mutual Film.

“First Comedy Feature + Early Lon Chaney: Cinecon Movies” last updated in April 2023.

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