Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand

Oh! Mabel Behave!

by

Marilyn Slater 

 

“Oh! Mabel Behave” is one of those strange films that was made and put on a shelf for no legitimate reason.  It was filmed by Sennett while he was producing comedies for Triangle in 1915.  I don’t know anyone who has actually seen it but a copy is said to exist at the Cinematheque in Paris.

 Mack Sennett is purported to have directed it and he also appears in it, which would have meant it was made in California before Mabel left on the train to New York in December of 1915. It is a rather long film, 5 reels; the reviews state that the production values were quite high (for a Sennett film).  Besides, Mabel Normand (Innkeeper’s daughter) and Mack Sennett (Blaa Blaa), there was also Ford Sterling (Squire Peachem) and Owen Moore/Mr. Mary Pickford (Randolph Roanoke) in the cast; it was finally released January 20, 1922, seven years after Sennett had placed it somewhere for safekeeping. Let’s hope it didn’t take 7 years to do the ‘post production’!

 

                              

 

The December 17, 1921, Moving Picture World printed an plot synopsis, “Squire Peachem used the mortgage he holds on the innkeeper’s property as a lever to win his daughter, but the daughter cannot see it that way as she loves a young swell, Randolph Roanoke.  The squire, with the aid of his trusty but ignorant henchman, Blaa Blaa, seeks to sidetrack Roanoke which leads to complications, but how poorly he succeeds and how the daughter brings things around so that she has her own way furnishes the action for the burlesque which contains fights, a comedy duel, stunts and thrills.”

 

Only Mack Sennett knew why he held back the release of “Oh, Mabel! Behave” but the promotion of “Molly O’” released a month before had been extensive, it was a Sennett production as “Oh, Mabel” was made for Triangle, maybe he hoped to use “Molly O’” to slip “Oh Mabel” into theaters without having a promotion budget.  Even the display advertising in the newspapers did not do Mabel justice; in one newspaper, the images from the Goldwyn film “What Happened to Rosa were used.  It doesn’t appear that the studio sent the theater owners anything to promote “Oh, Mabel”. 

In one of the few reviews, the film was called  . . . “a bit mediocre although extremely clever sub-titles which make up for a lot.”

“Mabel, while the feature player, isn’t in the picture more than a minute at the time.  The stars should be Ford Sterling and Mack Sennett., for they’re before the eye of the camera most of the time.”

 

 

So again 1915 is found to be a period of problems between Mabel and Mack, a real pivot point in their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

2002 Pordenone showed Oh Mabel Behave

 

After I posted a link to this information at the Mabel Normand Yahoo Group, I received a wonderful email from one of the members of the group, he saw “Oh, Mabel Behave!”

I asked him and he said I could post his email at Looking-for-Mabel, and so now, I know of someone who has seen the film and perhaps understand why, Sennett hoped to release it after the success of “Molly O’” without fanfare. 

Steve Massa is an excellent judge of film and I greatly value his opinion. 

“Since the discussion of OH, MABEL BEHAVE is going on I thought I'd put in my two cents worth as I saw the film at the 2002 Pordenone Silent Film Festival. It was part of their Funny Ladies program in a beautiful 35mm restoration by the Cinematheque francaise. Although I always try not to make value judgements on silent comedies and really focus on what's good about an individual film, I have to say that OH, MABEL BEHAVE is an out and out dog.

In this surviving version, which is missing one reel, Mabel turns up for only a total of 10 minutes. It's basically 43 minutes of Ford
Sterling and Mack Sennett mugging and improvising in period costume with barely a plot in sight. Most of it was shot in a public park and nothing really happens. As far as why the film sat on the shelf for 7 years who knows - although after sitting through it the meaness in me likes to think that the Triangle people took a look at some of the footage and wanted no part of it.

During the festival OH, MABEL BEHAVE became a informal yardstick used to measure other films. After screenings people would gather outside the theatre to discuss a film and you'd hear things like "It wasn't very good - but it wasn't OH, MABEL BEHAVE either" or "Well, it was definitely better than OH, MABEL BEHAVE." Of course I'm very glad that I saw it. To really learn the history of the era you have to see everything - the good, bad and indifferent - to see how everything fits together. Anyway, the credits I have for the film are:

OH, MABEL BEHAVE (1 / 20 / 1922) Prod: Mack Sennett. Dist: Photocraft Productions. Dirs: Mack Sennett & Ford
Sterling. Titles: Joe Farnham. Shot in 1915. 5 reels. Cast: Mabel Normand, Ford Sterling, Mack Sennett, Owen Moore, George Ovey, Alice Davenport, Dora Rogers, Dave Anderson, Joseph Swickard, Hank Mann, Eddie Cline.

Steve Massa”