One of only a handful of silent comediennes who ventured into the “men’s terrain” of rough-house physical comedy, at her peak Alice Howell’s name was as well-known to moviegoers as any of the popular male comics of the day, and like them, her films were designed to showcase her talents and the characterization that she had made famous. In her day, her popularity could be compared with that of Marie Dressler and Mabel Normand, but she is unfortunately not as well remembered. At Mack Sennett’s Keystone Film Company, Howell quickly worked her way up from crowd scenes to featured parts in shorts such as Charlie Chaplin’s Laughing Gas (1914), and starred in at least one, Shot in the Excitement (1914). In this early one-reeler Alice helps her father whitewash a fence when sweetheart Al St. John comes calling. Complications ensue with a jealous rival, and the film ends with Alice, Al, the rival, Dad, and a couple of Keystone Cops all being chased by flying cannonballs. In her earliest known comedy in which she has the starring role, Howell’s comic timing is already in place as is her capacity for taking punishment: in the course of the film she slips down stairs, gets soaked with water, is chased by cannonballs, and has a rock bounced off her head.
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