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Selected Short Subject: “On His Wedding Day” (1913)

Mack Sennett Collection
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The sixth film on the Mack Sennett blu ray collection

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“On His Wedding Day”
Directed by Mack Sennett.
Cast: Ford Sterling, Dot Farley, Mabel Normand, Charles Avery, Hale Studebaker, Nick Cogley, Helen Holmes, Carmen Phillips, Chester Franklin, Bert Hunn, Arthur Travers.
Released March 31, 1913. Running time: 6 minutes

The sixth film on the Mack Sennett Collection blu ray shows a further move toward the more frantic slapstick that Keystone would quickly become known for producing.

Ford Sterling plays a man on his way to his wedding. Some friends sprinkle pepper onto his bouquet, so when he gets there, everyone who sniffs the flowers starts sneezing uncontrollably. The minister runs off, and Ford goes after him. While trying to locate the minister, Ford happens upon a couple in the park (Mabel Normand and Charles Avery), and is completely smitten by the woman. Forgetting his own plans, Ford pushes her much smaller boyfriend away and starts moving in on Mabel, who appears to be pleased with the attention. The boyfriend challenges Ford to a fight, but pays two big thugs ten dollars to beat up his rival. The boyfriend returns to Mabel, bragging about how he won the fight. A beaten Ford comes running out in his underwear, and causes both Mabel and another woman to faint. He trips and falls onto someone’s picnic blanket, so that party starts chasing him. He comes upon a cop and punches him out of the way, causing that lawman and some other police officers join the chase. A desperate Ford then attempts to elude his pursuers by jumping down a chimney, followed by the cops. The chimney leads to a fireplace in the room where Ford’s bride-to-be continues to wait for him. He comes out of the fireplace followed by the cops in pursuit. The bride-to-be starts beating on the cops with their own billy club. Ford and his fiancé embrace as the film concludes.

“On His Wedding Day” has a comic situation rather than one that is inspired by melodrama, and each of the gags build upon each other. The sneezing from the bouquet starts with the bride and soon extends to the entire wedding party. This leads to the minister leaving, Ford following, and the distraction of pretty Mabel in the park. The dynamic between Ford, Mabel, and Charles Avery offers a nice visual. Ford is a much bigger man than the diminutive Avery, who is easily nudged out of the way. Sterling’s nuanced manner is evident as he provides one facial expression when responding to Mabel, and another when he turns and reacts to Avery.

While he never calls attention to himself beyond what he does for the character, Ford Sterling the actor is always very aware of the camera. Now wearing the makeup that would define his performances at Keystone, Ford carefully chooses the right mannerisms to convey what the narrative wants to viewer to understand. When he sees, Mabel, he puts his hands on his heart to express affection, and also tightens his fist to show off his biceps. This is is way of showing how he is a much bigger man than Avery, and therefore an upgrade of a replacement. He eagerly accepts Avery’s challenge to fight, but when confronted by the two thugs Avery has hired, he holds his hand up to his chest to ask, “where’s the little guy?” During cinemas infancy, broad gestures were the norm. The visuals of cinema would become much subtler as stage-trained actors learned to respond better to the intimacy of the movie camera. However, Ford Sterling uses these more blatant gestures to the camera in order to convey ideas and maintain the narrative, showing a keen awareness of how visual comedy would best be presented. Sterling’s work would remain the Keystone studio’s foundation for some time.

It is amusing how nearly the entire situation in this short is merely a distraction from the wedding. Ford leaves the ceremony and returns shortly thereafter, his disheveled, partly-clothed appearance the result of said distraction. It all happens very quickly, but Ford’s exploits come full circle within the course of the short’s running time. The park setting would quickly become another Keystone staple, as the chase was already.

Mabel Normand is given less to do in “On His Wedding Day,” other than to bat her eyes in response to Ford’s flirtations. Her prowess as both a comedian and filmmaker would grow rapidly, however, with each subsequent appearance.

“On His Wedding Day” moves us further toward Mack Sennett’s comic vision, which continues to be borne out with subsequent comedies on the Mack Sennett blu ray collection. Sennett's method as director shows him moving away from the melodramatic narrative structure, but his Biograph apprenticeship is borne out in the shots he chooses. Usually remaining on medium shots to offer a lot of action within the frame, Sennett does exhibit some of D.W. Griffith's influence in at least one setup. As Ford runs from his captors, we see him entering the frame in the background with a policeman in the foreground. Not wanting to be stopped, Ford punches the policeman as he enters the foreground, while the cop joins his pursuers. It is the same structure Griffith used in the Sennett-penned Biograph short The Curtain Pole" which appears earlier in the Mack Sennett Collection. In that film, Sennett plays the character being pursued.

The Keystone comedies were slowly becoming more defined as they also grew in popularity.

For more about Sennett, please consult Brent Walker’s definitive book “Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory,” which is now in affordable softcover.