|Mabel Normand, Charlie Chaplin, Marie Dressler, and a Keystone Kop.|
Tillie was originally conceived as a showcase for the talents of stage star Marie Dressler, with Chaplin and Mabel Normand in supporting roles and other Keystone players rounding out the edges, including Charley Chase, Mack Swain, and the Keystone Kops. That producer Mack Sennett would choose to build a film around Dressler seems bewildering today. It would probably not be too much of an exaggeration to call her the least attractive woman ever to star in a film. Of course, the plot is built around her being ugly. If she were beautiful, the story wouldn't make sense anymore. But nowadays it seems we are so used to "TV ugly" that we've forgotten what "ugly ugly" looks like. Never fear, Marie hasn't forgotten. Yet somehow she was a hugely successful star, both in the occasional silent comedy and then later in a flurry of wildly successful sound films, and was even named the top box office draw of 1933 by the Motion Picture Herald.
|Miss Sweet Young Thing 1914!|
Not surprisingly, it is Chaplin's performance that makes the film memorable, even if it does not stand up in comparison with his mature work. Many of his most characteristic expressions and mannerisms are already in place: the way he covers his mouth when he laughs, thumbs his nose in reverse, his backwards kick, usually directed at the rear end of someone in uniform, the nose tweak, and of course, the one foot skid around corners are all instantly familiar devices. On a more basic level, Chaplin has an uncanny level of expressiveness, whereby he seems to communicate directly with the camera through his eye movements alone, which makes his character more appealing and sympathetic than either of the other leads, in spite of the fact that he is ostensibly the villain of the piece.
|Even without close ups, Chaplin is expressive enough to convey emotion through his eyes alone.|
It is harder to compare the characterization, as the Tramp himself underwent several major changes in his early years. When he was introduced in 1914, the Tramp was dishonest, lecherous, and self-interested, and while these qualities never left him entirely, by even the early 1920's his dominant personality traits were kindness, sensitivity to beauty, and pride. Like the Tramp, the Stranger seems to have come from nowhere in particular, but where the Tramp comes from an indefinable Nowhere, like a page out of a fairy tale, the Stranger is simply a character about whom we know very little. More significantly, the Stranger has an agenda that guides his behavior, whereas even in his earliest incarnations the Tramp seems motivated less by any concrete goals than by an innate sense of mischief and adventure.
|Even as the Tramp, early Chaplin was more lecherous than chivalrous.|
|Detective Charley Chase, in an uncredited appearance.|
|Once he's seen her father's cash, Tillie doesn't look so bad.|