Tillie Banks (Marie Dressler), a beautiful heiress, falls prey to a charming crook named Charlie (Charles Chaplin) who lures her to the city and then promptly swindles her. But when Charlie returns to apologize, asking for her hand in marriage, a surprised Tillie cautiously accepts his proposal. As wedding preparations begin, Tillie wonders about Charlie's intentions -- particularly after she receives news that her rich uncle Donald (Charles Bennett) has died mysteriously.
Director: Mack Sennett
Run time: 86m
Silent with live Piano accompaniement
By - Mike Massie
Much-adored, heavyset Tillie Banks (Marie Dressler) is playing fetch with her dog in her farmyard when a city stranger (Charles Chaplin) walks directly in front of the brick she's tossing about. Struck and dazed, the man is then invited inside Tillie's home, where her father John (Mack Swain) introduces himself. When the father steps aside to do business with a farmer, unveiling a large wallet of money, the stranger can't help but notice. This motivates him to take advantage of the situation, considering that Tillie herself is noticeably drawn to the slick young hustler.
The man convinces Tillie to elope back to the great city, but not before swiping her father's stash of funds. Immediately upon wandering back into town, the man runs into the pretty, petite girl he left behind (Mabel Normand), sparking a series of love-triangle mishaps. Without hesitation, the stranger leaves with his fairer former flame, along with the money, as Tillie is hauled off to jail for drunkenly, disorderly conduct. Tillie's millionaire pie-maker uncle Donald Banks (Charles Bennett) gets her out of the jam, but she's still forced to apply for a waitressing job where, sure enough, the city slicker and his date dine. As fate would have it, the rich uncle then perishes in a mountaineering accident on Mount Baldy, naming the poor farm girl the sole heir, sought by Banks' secretaries to deliver the inheritance.
In a clever skit, Mabel and Chaplin enter a theater to see "A Thief's Fate," a short that reenacts their own corruption, with an equivalent confidence man and his female accomplice stealing from a wealthy woman. As Mabel laments over the resulting arrest of the fictional characters who so closely resemble their own identities and engage in comparable activities, she uncomfortably suppresses further outbursts as she eyes the tin star on the vest of the cop seated next to her. This scene is actually more humorous than the plentiful, playful violence that arises routinely throughout the picture.
But the slapstick engendered into every scene is, nevertheless, smoothly continual, with rears being kicked, people falling down, food being catapulted into faces, floundering in a traffic-filled street, mix-ups with policemen, and Tillie's first alcoholic imbibing (resulting in subsequent entanglements with the authorities), all transforming into spot-on physical mayhem. The carefully choreographed stumbling onto a step while Dressler kicks up her legs to strike Chaplin's chin is a prime example of the combination of all the players' acrobatic capabilities. Smartly, the story itself doesn't rely only on slapstick, instead also infusing a perpetual note of misdirection, in which the various roles switch back and forth from poverty to abundance. Lengthy moments of dancing and fighting at a grand party to utilize the newfound wealth slows the pace a touch, however, as this 74-minute film (or 82-minutes for the restoration) retains the distinction of being the first feature-length comedy.
Chaplin sports a straw hat, a thin mustache, and his signature cane and awkward splayfooted gait, looking very much like a slightly more primped version of his tramp. Notably, he's the villain of the picture and not the primary protagonist, though his success of the time and future accomplishments would make him the most praised and remembered actor in the production (it's the first feature he would appear in and it would also mark the last time he would be directed by someone other than himself - here, Mack Sennett). Repeatedly swindling Tillie for her fortunes proves to be quite the dastardly deed, though he still possesses an undeniable charm. Broadway comedienne Dressler was the focus for the Keystone Film Company's establishment of this early feature, and she does an outstanding job with visual flamboyance and the action-packed, chaotic finale on a dock, deftly keeping up with Chaplin and Normand, two of Keystone's top performers.