By Victoria Sturtevant
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Extra resources for A Great Big Girl Like Me: The Films of Marie Dressler
From the drunken dance in Tillie’s Punctured Romance, her first film, to the drunken dance in Tugboat Annie, filmed the year before her death, few of her movies bypassed the opportunity to showcase this specialty. Dressler’s performance of intoxication is always a spectacle of the body in ecstasy: face muscles slackening, balance lost, powerful big body reduced to lurching around, giggling, hiccupping, and pratfalls—the whole bag of comedian’s tricks. It is a demonstration of perfect physical control (Dressler’s) communicating the loss of control (the character’s).
Thinking her beloved is dead, she joins a convent, only to discover he is alive. Alas! She cannot bring herself to break her vows (The White Sister, MGM, 1933). Or she kills herself in a spectacular airplane crash in order not to burden her married lover with her illegitimate unborn child (Christopher Strong, RKO, 1933). An impossible choice or terribly necessary (if terribly contrived) sacrifice ratchets up the emotional register of the film. Moral polarization is present in the way characters suffer for their wrongdoings.
Friend, the petite, sophisticated Mabel (Normand). When Tillie cannot pay the bill, she is hauled off to jail. The thieves spend the loot on fancy new duds and a picture show, but when Charlie notices in the newspaper that Tillie’s rich uncle has fallen off a mountain during a ski trip, bequeathing all his money to his niece, he leaves Mabel flat. He finds Tillie working as a waitress at the same café where he left her and marries her before she learns of her good fortune. When the inheritance arrives, the couple move into the uncle’s mansion and throw a lavish party, which Mabel crashes in the guise of a maid.
A Great Big Girl Like Me: The Films of Marie Dressler by Victoria Sturtevant