Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Mary Pickford

Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)

One of Mary Pickford’s most successful features at the time, this was directed by Maurice Tourneur – or, perhaps, co-directed by him, given the power Mary wielded on the set – and written by her friend Frances Marion. It’s probably not her most accessible movie today, for reasons I’ll discuss below, but it’s a valuable insight into what made her a superstar for her era.

The movie starts out by introducing its title character, 10-year-old Gwendolyn, played by Pickford (I’ll address that later, just accept it for now). It is immediately established that she is “rich” in wealth, but “poor” in love. Her parents neglect her and leave her with unsympathetic and strict servants in charge. The scene is set for us with highly stylized intertitles that show a small girl in an enormous room, with toys but no companions. Then Gwen comes skipping onto the scene, only to be confronted by two stern-looking butlers. She sees some children skating outside the window and smiles happily, but a servant comes over to slam it down. She begs her mother (Madlaine Traverse) to give her a minute, but her mother is rushing off somewhere and says maybe they can talk to-morrow. Gwen asks, “Why is it that my to-morrows never come?”

Read the rest of this entry »

The Little American (1917)

The star power of Mary Pickford is teamed with the directing power of Cecil B. DeMille to produce a war propaganda picture just as the United States prepares to send its first troops to France to fight in World War One. The movie pulls no punches in showing audiences what the USA will be fighting for, but it has a reputation for being clumsy and jingoistic today.

Mary is the titular representative of the United States, Angela Moore, living a privileged and sheltered life as a socialite on a large estate. She has two suitors: the French Count Jules de Destin (Raymond Hatton) and Karl von Austreim (Jack Holt), a German. As the movie opens, it is July 4, 1914 (which just happens to be Angela’s birthday), and she receives each of them in turn. She seems to prefer Karl, although he insists on teaching her little brother how to goose step. Karl is interrupted as he proposes by an urgent secret message calling him back to serve in the German military, and he honorably releases her from any obligations before he goes. When the Count informs her about the outbreak of war, her first though is of Karl and whether he may have been hurt in the fighting. She sends letters to Karl but hears nothing. Read the rest of this entry »

May 1917

The Century News roundup this week has some interesting trends, in addition to the expected war news and the militarization of the now officially belligerent USA. The Russian Revolution continues, but the big headlines for this month are about uprisings in France and Italy – reasons why people on both sides feared (or anticipated) a coming World Revolution. The Catholic Church has some major events, both at the top and the bottom of its hierarchical structure. And in a film world that is increasingly defined by major stars with huge salaries and unprecedented control of their work, we see important releases from Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, and Roscoe Arbuckle.

Phillippe Pétain

World War One

The Nivelle Offensive, an attack on the Aisne Front that resulted in over 180,000 French casualties, is abandoned on May 9.

Robert Nivelle is replaced on May 15 as Commander-in-Chief of the French Army by Philippe Pétain. Seen as a hero at this stage of his career, he will later lead the collaborationist regime of Vichy France.

The Selective Service Act passes the United States Congress on May 18, giving the President the power of conscription.

During the Stalemate in Southern Palestine the Raid on the Beersheba to Hafir el Auja railway by Desert Column of British Empire troops, destroys large sections of the railway line linking Beersheba to the main Ottoman desert base on May 23.

Over 30,000 French troops refuse to go to the trenches at Missy-aux-Bois on May27. This is one of several mutinies by French soldiers during the year 1917, as conditions at the Front become increasingly inhuman and the sense that generals sacrifice lives without concern spreads among the common people.

Pope Pius XII

Catholicism

The nuncio Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, is consecrated Archbishop by Pope Benedict XV on May 13.

Beginning May 13, 10-year-old Lúcia Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto report experiencing a series of Marian apparitions near Fátima, Portugal, which become known as Our Lady of Fátima. These visions continue until October.

Pope Benedict XV promulgates the 1917 Code of Canon Law on May 27.

Disasters

Over 300 acres (73 blocks) are destroyed in the Great Atlanta fire of 1917 on May 21 in the United States.

A tornado strikes Mattoon, Illinois on May 26, causing devastation and killing 101 people.

Transportation

A new Coast and Geodetic Survey Corps of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey is created on May 22, giving the Survey’s officers a commissioned status that protected them from treatment as spies if captured, as well as providing the United States armed forces with a ready source of officers skilled in surveying that could be rapidly assimilated for wartime support of the armed forces.

Crime

Eli Persons is lynched in Memphis on May 22 in connection with the rape and murder of 16-year-old Antoinette Rappal. Parsons was arrested on the evidence of authorities who claimed they could see his face frozen in the pupils of the victim. His death was a partial motivator for the foundation of the Memphis Chapter of the NAACP.

Civil Unrest

A month of civil violence in Milan, Italy, ends on May 23 after the Italian army forcibly takes over the city from anarchists and anti-war revolutionaries. Fifty people are killed and 800 arrested.

Film

Release of A Romance of the Redwoods, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, starring Mary Pickford on May 14.

Release of One Law for Both directed by Ivan Abramson on May 19.

Release of  Souls Triumphant, starring Lillian Gish on May 20

May 21 – A Reckless Romeo, a ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle short on May 21.

Release of Frank Hansen’s Fortune directed by Viggo Larsen – (Germany). Exact date unknown.

Births

May 1 – Danielle Darrieux, actress (in “5 Fingers” and “The Earrings of Madame de…”).

May 10 – Margo, actress (in “The Leopard Man” and “Lost Horizon”).

May 16 – George Gaynes, actor (in “Police Academy” and “Tootsie”).

May 21 – Raymond Burr, actor (known for “Perry Mason” TV series and also in the American release of “Godzilla”).

May 25 – Steve Cochran, actor (who was in “The Best Years of Our Lives” and “Copacabana“).

March 1917

This is the month that the “February Revolution” kicks off in Russia (they were on a different calendar, so it happened in March, so far as we’re concerned), and things start to change dramatically in Europe and the world as a result. Meanwhile, the USA is drifting closer to war and things are finally stabilizing in Mexico after years of revolution. Here are some of the headlines you’d have been reading 100 years ago:

World War One:

First Battle of Gaza: On March 26,  British Egyptian Expeditionary Force troops virtually encircle the Gaza garrison but are then ordered to withdraw, leaving the city to the Ottoman defenders.

Russian Revolution:

Riots break out as women calling for bread in Petrograd protest on March 8, the unrest  spontaneously spreading throughout the city.

The Duma declares a provisional government on March 12.

Emperor Nicholas II of Russia abdicates his throne and his son’s claims on March 15.

Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia refuses the throne on March 17, and power passes to the newly formed Provisional Government under Prince Georgy Lvov.

Mexican Revolution:

Venustiano Carranza is elected president of Mexico on March 11; the United States gives de jure recognition of his government.

Diplomacy:

The U.S. government releases the text of the Zimmermann Telegram to the public on March 1.

Republic of China terminates diplomatic relations with Germany on March 14.

Colonialism:

The United States takes possession of the Danish West Indies on March 31, which become the US Virgin Islands, after paying $25 million to Denmark.

Politics:

The enactment of the Jones Act on March 2 grants Puerto Ricans United States citizenship.

 

Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first woman member of the United States House of Representatives, her term beginning on March 4.

Hjalmar Hammarskjöld steps down as Prime Minister of Sweden on March 30. He is replaced by the right-wing businessman and politician Carl Swartz .

Religion:

The Georgian Orthodox Church restores the autocephaly abolished by Imperial Russia in 1811.

Music:

Livery Stable Blues“, recorded with “Dixie Jazz Band One Step” on February 26 by the Original Dixieland Jass Band in the United States, becomes the first jazz recording commercially released on March 8.

Film:

Release of “Poor Little Rich Girl” starring Mary Pickford, March 5, reputedly the third-highest grossing film of 1917.

Release of “The Tornado” on March 3, debut film of John Ford.

Births:

Desi Arnaz (actor, in “I Love Lucy” and “The Long, Long Trailer”), March 2; Googie Withers (actress, in “The Lady Vanishes” and “Dead of Night”), March 12; Virginia Grey (actress, in “Another Thin Man” and “The Naked Kiss”), March 22.

The Female of the Species (1912)

Female of the SpeciesThis is one of the better of the one-reelers D.W. Griffith directed for Biograph. Shot in California, it takes good advantage of the scenery and also of three female leads, who refrain from any frolicking in this one to give powerful melodramatic performances. It struck me that the story is something of a reversal of the “Three Godfathers,” which of course wouldn’t be made for another 36 years (or at least 4 years, to speak of the original).

Female of the Species2The few survivors of a mining camp in the desert consist of a miner (Charles West), his wife (Claire McDowell), her sister (Mary Pickford), and an “Other Woman” (Dorothy Bernard). Although everyone’s mind should be firmly fixed on survival, Charles is focused on getting rid of his wife in order to harass Dorothy. Claire catches them, and blames Dorothy, ignoring the fact that she clearly isn’t interested. In the ensuing struggle, Charles is killed. Mary and Claire bury the man and scowl at the woman. The trek across the desert continues, but the situation grows increasingly tense and Claire makes a point of brandishing guns and axes, preventing Dorothy from getting any sleep at night. Meanwhile, an Indian family of mother, father, and papoose are struggling across the same desert. The squaw falls down from thirst, and the father is killed trying to steal water from some white men. The baby is alone, screaming in the desert. Our trio stumbles across it, and find their humanity reawakened by its helpless innocence. Old grudges are forgotten as they cooperate to keep it alive in the harsh environment.

Not really Mary's film.

Not really Mary’s film.

I found this to be a very effective telling of an emotionally charged story in a short running time. The acting makes a lot of it work. Claire McDowell chews the scenery with her desire for revenge, and Dorothy Bernard shows the hurt of being wrongly accused alongside the terror of being in a hopeless situation. Mary Pickford, surprisingly, winds up with little to do but sneer alongside her sister, but this obviously wasn’t her movie. Griffith uses close-ups occasionally, mostly on Dorothy, who is most frequently seen in isolation at any range, to emphasize how she is separated from her companions. Night is more implied than shown, and at times people appear to be lying down to rest in mid-day (which you might do in the desert, anyway: it’s better to move at night). The bleakness of the desert is shown clearly, and a cruel wind whips the foliage and the girls’ clothes and blankets. I also found the score on the DVD, by Zoran Borisavljevic, to be very affecting. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find an online edition with this music, so you’ll have to provide some sad, thoughtful music of your own.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Charles West, Claire McDowell, Mary Pickford, Dorothy Bernard

Run Time: 14 Min

You can watch it for free: here (sorry, no music).

Also: Check out the review at Silentology for a different view.

The Son’s Return (1909)

Cinecon pulled a surprise on me and screened a bonus Century Film, in a beautifully remastered print. I appreciate this, but it was screened right before the 1918 Mary Pickford vehicle, “M’Liss,” so I hope I don’t get the plots of those movies confused.

Sons Return“The Son’s Return” is an early Biograph short by D.W. Griffith, who I think took on a rather too complicated story for his still-developing skills. Imdb identifies the source as “a novel” by Guy de Maupassant, but the short list of his novels on wikipedia includes nothing that looks like French for “The Son’s Return,” so I can’t confirm that. Pickford’s role is actually comparatively minor, though for some reason the movie begins with her frolicking through sunlit glades of flowers. Griffith was into girls frolicking, we know that. Then we are introduced to Charles West, her sweetie, who is the real center of the narrative. His parents are running an inn in New England that isn’t doing well, but he has decided to move to the city and seek his fortune. He does remarkably well, apparently getting a job on Wall Street or in a major bank, and he stays for five years, apparently forgetting his rural roots, and growing a beard. One day, a letter from Mary comes, telling him that his parents are on the verge of bankruptcy, so he announces to his boss that he’s taking some unplanned time off, and takes a train to town. No one (including his parents) recognizes him with his beard and expensive clothes, and he decides to “surprise” everyone by pretending to be a stranger and checking in to the inn. The landlord is threatening to turn the parents out into the street any day, and when this big-spending stranger shows up passes out fully clothed in his hotel room, they decide to take desperate measures. They club him and steal his wallet, only to decide that he’s dead after a cursory check of his pulse. Then they find the locket with the mother’s picture that demonstrates his identity. Grief- and terror-stricken, they dump the body and run back to the inn. Now Mary comes along and finds the “body,” which acts like it has a terrible hangover. Mary, who recognizes him at once, calls a doctor and the police, assuming that he’s been the victim of highwaymen. The parents decide they cannot live with their crime and show up to turn themselves in, but of course their son forgives them when they fall on their knees.

Sons Return1This isn’t necessarily a bad storyline for a movie, and it might even have worked in short format, given Griffith’s later skills, but it was a bit ambitious for 1909. The biggest problem is the suspension of disbelief that a man’s parents can’t recognize him after only five years because he has grown a beard. Even my extremely near-sighted mother never had this problem, even when I was dying my hair and cutting it in punk rock fashions. He needed a bit more of a disguise. It’s also unclear why he chooses to sleep in his clothes, and the question of day/night is never adequately settled by Billy Bitzer’s photography. When the parents sneak up to the room, they make a point of taking a candle, suggesting that it is night, but there is no attempt to show this through lighting (aside from which, there is a plainly visible burning candle in the room already when they enter, so the second one was unnecessary). The parents presumably dump the body at night, but when Mary walks up a minute later, it appears to be daytime – which is both an editing issue and a lighting one. Editing the whole story more tightly might have heightened the tension and also made it easier to ignore the other problems, but no doubt Griffith was still learning how to do this.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Charles West, Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, Edwin August

Run Time: 11 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Cinderella (1914)

Cinderella

Mary Pickford (who we saw in “Friends” and “The New York Hat”) stars in this version of the classic fairy tale put out by Famous Players Film Company, which was still making movies in New York in late 1914. It makes use of tinting, split screens, close-ups, and other camera effects to show the magical world in which it takes place. Mary is both lovely and kind, while her stepmother and step-sisters are ugly and cruel. The intertitles often emphasize qualities such as these, rather than explaining actions or dialogue in greater detail. Mary actually meets Prince Charming (played by Owen Moore, who looks uncomfortable in leotards, and was in “Resurrection” and “In the Border States”) in the woods before the Ball, where he demonstrates his decency to the disdain of his retinue. Like Pickford, the director, James Kirkwood, Sr., had come up from working for D.W. Griffith in such early movies as “A Corner in Wheat” and “The Red Man’s View.” There’s a scene where the stepsisters go to visit a fortuneteller – a classic witch with a cauldron and a gaggle of dwarven familiars – to find out that “a member of your family” will be chosen by the Prince to marry. I’m fairly certain the witch is played by a man, but I couldn’t identify him.

Director: James Kirkwood, Sr.

Starring: Mary Pickford, Owen Moore, Inez Marcel

Run Time: 52 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Friends (1912)

Friends Pickford

This short by Griffith is a classic love-triangle, set in a Western context, with Mary Pickford (who was in “Coquette” and “The New York Hat”) coming between close friends Henry B. Walthall (also in “Birth of a Nation” and “Corner in Wheat”) and Lionel Barrymore (from “The Burglar’s Dilemma” and “You Can’t Take It With You”). All of this takes place in the saloon in a California mining town, where Mary lives alone in a room upstairs, and she comes across to me as rather forward by the gender standards of the day. The Intertitle refers to her as “the little orphan whose eager eyes and bright smile make Placer Gulch Haven an Earthly paradise for the rough miners,” which may not quite be a euphemism for “prostitute,” since she shows no interest in the other saloon patrons and apparently the eponymous friends intend to marry her. Walthall is her foppish beau Dandy Jack at the beginning, but when he leaves her to seek his fortune, she takes up with the grizzled and burly Barrymore, soon replacing Walthall’s picture with his in her photographic frame. This is what tips him off when he inopportunely returns, but, of course, friendship wins out and Walthall gallantly concedes the fray, apparently to Mary’s disappointment.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Mary Pickford, Henry B. Walthall, Lionel Barrymore, Harry Carey, Elmer Booth, Robert Harron, Walter Miller.

Run Time: 12 Min, 45 seconds.

You can watch it for free: here.

New York Hat (1912)

Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to "Fredojoda."

Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to “Fredojoda.”

The arrival of a $10 Merry Widow hat (worth $237.07 in adjusted dollars today) from New York City causes quite a stir in a small-town haberdashery. But, when the local pastor (Lionel Barrymore, from “The Miser’s Heart” and later “You Can’t Take It with You”) buys it for Mary Pickford (also in “The Usurer” and later “Daddy Long Legs”), the local gossips set to work to destroy both their reputations! Her stingy father destroys the hat and the local church board seeks to oust the minister, until he explains that he is simply the holder of a trust from Mary’s dead mother, who willed that she be provided, from time to time, with “bits of finery.” This fairly light bit of fluff does showcase both Barrymore and especially Pickford’s talents, as well as being another avenue for D.W. Griffith’s directing. The “AB” logo for American Biograph is visible in nearly every shot, showing that they were becoming increasingly concerned about copyright and piracy. Imdb claims that Mack Sennett and Dorothy Gish appear uncredited, although it’s a bit late for Sennett to still be hanging around Biograph (he founded Keystone Studios the same year) and it would be a very early appearance for Dorothy, who was only 14 at the time.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Harron, Mack Sennett (?), Dorothy Gish (?)

Run Time: 16 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Unchanging Sea (1910)

1910_UnchangingSea

This Biograph picture by DW Griffith is based on the poem “The Three Fishers” by Charles Kingsley, which provides a somewhat different structure to the storyline than similar shorts of the time. At the beginning of the movie, the intertitles are almost all quotes from that poem, which manage to tell the entire poem before the movie storyline completely takes over. That story involves a fisherman in a small seaside village who leaves his pregnant wife behind to go to the sea and fails to return, leaving her and the child alone for years. His companions’ bodies are washed ashore, but the sea never gives him up, leaving the wife uncertain to his fate. It develops that he’s been in another village all this time, apparently suffering from amnesia, but he finally returns to find his wife and now-grown child – who now has a fisherman sweetheart of her own. The husband is played by Arthur V. Johnson, who we’ve seen in “The Adventures of Dollie” and “The Sealed Room” and the wife is Griffith’s real-life spouse Linda Arvidson, who was in “Corner in Wheat” as well as “The Adventures of Dollie.” Mary Pickford (from “The Usurer” and later in “Poor Little Rich Girl”), again edging toward stardom, is the grown daughter, and Charles West (whose career includes “The Redman’s View” and “In the Border States“) is her boyfriend.

Director: D.W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Arthur V. Johnson, Linda Arvidson, Mary Pickford, Charles West, George Nichols

Run Time: 13 Min, 30 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.