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Film: “A Busy Day” (originally titled The Militant Suffragette), 1914

A Busy Day. Director: Mack Sennett. Performer: Charlie Chaplin. Keystone, 1914.

Era: Suffrage Era | Media: Video

A Busy Day (1914) is Charlie Chaplin’s first female impersonation film. In this short film, Chaplin plays a “militant suffragette” who is jealous of her husband’s flirting with another woman during a parade. Chaplin (as the wife) follows her husband around, trying to catch him with the other woman. In the process, she disrupts a film set and ends up being pushed into a pier. By presenting the wife as comically angry and jealous of her husband’s flirting, the film promotes the stereotype of suffragettes being belligerent, unreasonable, and ultimately unlovable women.

This description is an excerpt from an SF Silent Film Festival Blog post, “Silent Films and Suffragettes:

In director Mack Sennett’s 1914 short A Busy Day (originally titled A Militant Suffragette), Charlie Chaplin plays an obnoxious female character who [spoiler alert!] is knocked into the sea and left to drown. The film in its current state contains no overt references to the suffrage movement, but film historians believe the character would have been recognized by movie audiences of the time. It also features Mack Swain, Phyllis Allen, Ted Edwards, and Billy Gilbert with cinematography by Frank D. Williams. Chaplin, uncredited, according to the film’s IMDB listing, edited the short.

You can find information about A Busy Day and other silent films related to suffrage in Kay Sloan’s documentary Suffragettes in the Silent Cinema.

You can also read a review of A Busy Day at the Chaplin: Film by Film website.

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