(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)
Strange, indeed. Mabel Normand gets her name in the title, and Charlie Chaplin walks off with the film.
Chaplin provides what might be called “punctuation” to the movie’s comic conceit – but what grand punctuation! The movie begins with Charlie trying and failing miserably to flirt with Mabel in a hotel lobby while she is walking her dog. After Charlie gets snubbed by Mabel and several other women, he spends the rest of the evening getting drunk.
Meanwhile, Mabel has gone to her room, gotten into her pajamas, and is playing fetch with her dog. The ball bounces out into the hallway. Mabel quickly tries to retrieve it but ends up locked out of her room. Charlie happens upon Mabel in her “scandalous” state (a woman in her PJ’s, outside of her room! Shocking! At least in 1914!), and never was lust more hilariously conveyed. Charlie flits in and out for the rest of this one-reeler, but whenever he appears, he makes it clear that Mabel is carnal manna sent from heaven just for him. Harpo Marx couldn’t have done it better.
The rest of the movie is the broad farce you’d expect – Mabel hides under the bed of a nearby lodger, she’s found and the lodger is accused of sleeping with her, etc. But every time Chaplin comes upon the scene, we forget the hoary contrivances and wait to see Charlie’s next reaction. It’s the kind of delight the one-reeler was invented for. Superb.