Administration details

I Don’t Want to Be a Man was watched, but turns out to be too short for this blog at 45 minutes. It does open up a space for Ninotcha (1939) by the same director. It will be replaced by The Blue Bird (1918).

The Bechdel Test

I’ve decided to include Bechdel Test notes with each movie going on. The Poor Little Rich Girl was a very solid pass, and Snow White was a clear pass.

Advertisements

Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)

Poor Little Rich Girl (1917) was directed by Maurice Tourneur, based off a play by Eleanor Gates. It stars Mary Pickford, who was 24 years old at the time, playing a 10-year-old girl. Apparently popular female stars at the time were smaller and more childlike, so older women playing children wasn’t as uncommon, but I still would have picked another movie, had I been paying attention. Maxine Elliott Hicks was also in this movie as a fellow child; she was thirteen at the time. She is not really notable, but did play a rôle in Beethoven (yes, the one with the dog).

Plot

Gwendolyn is the poor little rich girl of the title. Her parents don’t have even a minute to talk to her, and the staff is somewhat abusive.  She has a school room full of teachers all to herself, and declares that she will demand to go to public school as a birthday present. She invites an organ grinder in, who eventually gets thrown out, but her mother promises her that the next day Susie May, a friend’s daughter, will come over. The next day, the two get in fights (why does Gwen say she’s a bear?) and when they say that she must give her best dress to Susie, whose dress she just ruined, Gwen throws her dresses out her bedroom window, whereupon they were promptly stolen. So they dress Gwen as a boy (which doesn’t look half-bad or the least bit masculine on her). A baseball goes through the window, and the boys decide to chance it and try and get it. They run into Gwen tells them her name is Gwendolyn and she’s a boy, at which point the leader calls her a sissy and she punches him, and then they start throwing mud, until someone comes in with a hose and breaks it up. (Even today, I’d be surprised to see a boy with that (unconcealed) hair. She did not pass for me as a boy.)

The bear thing apparently had something to do with bears in the market, as apparently her father is losing everything in a bear market and there’s a brief dream-like sequence with bears attacking her father. Her father considers suicide, as shown by a translucent double sitting in the other chair starting to do it until his daughter comes in, for a brief moment before the nurse drags her out. Even at this point, he can’t spare a moment for his daughter, or won’t interrupt her nurse.

She doesn’t want to have help with her bath on her 11th birthday, so she locks herself in the bathroom and breaks the sink by accident, introducing a brief comedy sequence. Later, so the servants can go out, they dope her so she’ll sleep, but not paying attention, they give her a double dose. She staggers out of her room and falls down the stairs (which could have happened with any dose sufficient to make her sleep, no?) The plumber, fixing the bathroom, finds her and carries her upstairs. Meanwhile, we have a dream sequence, starting with double exposures and more examples of literal metaphors, like a snake-in-the-grass and a silly ass (a donkey). While the doctor is poking at her in the real world, she goes to find her father on Wall Street (literally grinding out money) and her mother, and is offered peace in death but is lured back by the joy of life. Distressed by what happened, her father decides to give up the house to the creditors, and apparently they still have enough money to go live in the country where Gwendolyn can get dirty and ride a horse.

Special Effects?

Double exposures are used fairly frequently to produce dream effects. There’s a snake in the grass that isn’t realistic, but works as an effect in the imagination of a young girl. The donkey and bears are more people in ill-fitting costumes; even simply making better costumes could have caused a lot of improvement.

More subtly, Mary Pickford was short, but I’m pretty sure that there’s some cases where forced perspective are being used to make her look smaller and more child-like. There’s a couple cases where it doesn’t seems to work, and she comes off as the adult she was, but they do a surprisingly convincing job of making her look as young as her rôle.

So, how is it?

It’s better than the last one. If you can watch old Shirley Temple movies, you could probably enjoy this one. Of course, Shirley Temple made a movie called  Poor Little Rich Girl in 1936, but it doesn’t seem to be related. It’s not something most people are going to run out and watch.

Sources

There’s a copy on the Internet Archive that’s pretty similar to the DVD copy I watched, but without audio. They’re both pretty mediocre copies. The Rags to Riches Collection may have a better copy of the movie.

Internet Archive copy.

Rare Films of Mary Pickford, vol. 1 or Rags to Riches Collection

What’s next?

Plans may always change, but 1918’s I Don’t Want to Be a Man should be followed by 1919’s Eerie Tales.

Snow White (1916)

Snow White (1916), was directed by J. Searle Dawley and had 33-year-old Marguerite Clark in the lead rôle of Snow White. Since the movie opened on Christmas Day, an unimportant scene with Santa Claus opens the movie. When we get into the plot, Queen Imogene pricks her finger on an ebony frame, and bleeds onto the snow outside the windows; she then wishes for a child as pale as the snow, with hair as dark as the ebony and lips as red as the blood. Brangomar then makes a deal with Witch Hex to kill the Queen and become the most beautiful. The cost is the heart of Snow White. Brangomar marries the now-widowed King and sends the princess to work in the kitchen. On an errand, the Prince Florimond runs into her at the woodcutter’s house. He then shows up at the castle, and runs into the Princess in the guise of a lady-in-waiting. He hands the Queen a note from his father that says that the Prince should marry his cousin Snow White. (Yes, his cousin; you can’t have monarchy without a little inbreeding.) The prince tells Brangomar that he wants to marry someone else, and Brangomar says that she’s too old for him. After a little more discussion, the Queen tells them that they can marry after Snow White spends a year and a day at “a Boarding School for Backward Princesses”. Since the magic mirror says that Snow White is fairer than the Queen, the Queen decides it’s about time to make good on that heart-promise, and tells the woodcutter to return with her heart. He returns with a pig’s heart, and which she gives to the witch. The witch apparently wanted the heart to improve her hair, but gets pig’s tails all over her head instead pig tails. Snow White finds the Seven Dwarves, Blick, Flick, Click, Snick, Plick, Whick and Quee, the Queen transforms her appearance and eventually gets her with an apple, the prince thinks she’s dead, brings her body back to accuse the queen with, and she coughs up the apple and comes back to life (…?). The Queen breaks the Magic Mirror and becomes ugly and the Witch gets the pig tails she always dreamed of. (The end of the movie doesn’t seem to make much sense, but so it is.)

Special effects?

Not really. There was a brief scene with the witch flying that was pure animation, and there was another scene with the witch’s familiar. This was a person in a suit to look like a cat, and even with that constraint, I think a less-human, more cat-like suit could have been made. I do not understand why they could get a real bird to play the rôle of the bird, but not a cat to play the rôle of the witch’s familiar.

So, how is it?

This movie’s main claim to fame is that it is the first movie Walt Disney watched. It is a movie for kids, and kids nowadays do not watch black and white, poorly preserved silents. It’s not a bad movie, but I think it’s no longer something its audience will watch.

Sources

There is a Youtube copy of the movie; I watched the Alpha Video DVD, which had different music and was tinted blue.

Snow White (1916) / Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917)

A century of movies

It has been roughly one hundred years since the first full-length movies; in 1906, the Australian movie The Story of the Kelly Gang ran for about an hour. By 1916, the art of the full-length movie was well underway. I plan to watch and review a movie from each year, starting in 1916 and ending in 2016. Up first is Snow White followed by The Poor Little Rich Girl. I don’t have the entire list drawn up, but I do plan to keep it varied by avoiding having multiple movies by the same director, in the same series or dominated by the same actor.