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