Mabel Normand in “The Extra Girl”

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Today is the anniversary of the release of the Mabel Normand feature The Extra Girl (1923), produced by Mack Sennett. 

Mabel plays a small town girl who wants to go into films and has two suitors vying for her hand. One (Ralph Graves) whom she loves, another (played by Vernon Dent) who is horrible on every level, whom her father (George Nichols) is making her marry. Meantime she sends her headshot to a movie studio (and a pranking rival girl has replaced it with a photo of a movie star). The studio writes to her just as she is about to marry the man she hates. The other man helps her escape down a ladder, onto a wagon and onto a train, with the wedding party in hot pursuit. The section is filmed rather badly and contains no slapstick — a lost opportunity.

When Mabel gets to Hollywood, she is found to look different from her photo so she is made a prop and wardrobe girl but given a screen test (which fails). Meanwhile the boyfriend and her parents follow her out, thinking she is a star (thanks to her misleading letters). On her advice, the parents invest $15,000 with a shyster who loses all their money. Then there is a long section where she loses a lion on the set, causing much havoc, and she gets fired.

In an epilogue, it is the present day (most of the film occurred four years in the past, hence Mabel’s preposterous little girl Mary Pickford curls throughout the picture). Now we see her with a modern 20s bob, now married to her beau and with a kid. A decidedly reactionary moral: “My greatest role is wife and mother”. Homey don’t play that!

While the film is a bit on the ho-hum “straight comedy” side, there are lots of rewarding cameos and recognizable people in bit parts to keep it interesting, including Max Davidson as a tailor, Harry Gribbon as a film director, and William Desmond, Billy Bevan and Ben Turpin as themselves. And it’s a cool behind-the-scenes window into the Hollywood of the 1920s. Well worth watching on that score.

To learn more about comedy film history, including Mabel Normand films like “The Extra Girl” please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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