When critics write about Keystone comedies being “primitive,” they don’t get much more primitive than The Fatal Mallet.
Three men (Chaplin; Mack Swain; and Mack Sennett, who directed this short) all vie for the attention of a woman (Mabel Normand). Sadly, the only way they can think of to compete is by attempting to knock each other out with bricks. The theory here, I guess, that the last man standing is entitled to the girl – not that the girl has any say in the matter, of course.
At one incredulous point in the short, while the trio of grown men is preoccupied, a young man, possibly teen-aged, tries to hit on Mabel himself. Luckily, before we can contemplate what new standard this is going to set in cinema, Charlie returns and kicks the kid away. (The kid does a mean backwards flip, too.)
Sociologists love to inform the public that we get many of our ideas of courtship from the movies. I wonder if this film contributed to figures for spousal abuse in 1914?
Charlie tries to win Mabel (Mabel Normand) over from her sports-car-driving boyfriend, but to no avail. When Charlie kidnaps and locks up the boyfriend on the day of his big race, Mabel takes his place in the race.
The primary fun of this short is watching Chaplin (made up here to look like a variation on Ford Sterling) chew the scenery in an uncharacteristic role as an all-out villain. You also get to see Keystone founder (and this movie’s co-director) Mack Sennett as a spectator in the audience.
The main plot of Dough and Dynamite has waiters Chester Conklin and Charlie having to become bakers when the bakers at the restaurant where they work go on strike for better working conditions. Annoyed that the “scabs” have taken their jobs, one of the bakers hides a stick of dynamite in a loaf of bread and connives to get it put back into the restaurant’s oven, causing predictable havoc for the movie’s climax.
But that plot is mostly an excuse for Charlie to shove everyone around, act belligerent and incompetent simultaneously, and sling a lot of dough at people primarily because it’s so available. (That old reliable, the arse-kick, makes several appearances here as well.) And that’s not much of an excuse for extending this two-reeler to nearly an entire half-hour’s length. For the heavy-handed slapstick, my guess is that the blame goes to credited “co-writer” Mack Sennett.
Nothing is done with the explosion comedically, other than a final, gooey close-up of Charlie emerging from the doughy mess. Ironically, this was among many Chaplin shorts to be shown at the New York Historical Society in September of 2001. Needless to say, the real-life terrorist attack dampened the humor of the slapstick model, and the movie was pulled prior to screening.