Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mary Pickford, Madlaine Traverse, Charles Wellesley, Gladys Fairbanks, Frank McGlynn Sr., Emile La Croix, Marcia Harris, Charles Craig, Frank Andrews, Herbert Prior, George Gernon, Maxine Elliott Hicks, Ralph Lewis, Kenneth Harlan, T.D. Crittenden, Aggie Herring, Andrew Arbuckle, Max Davidson, Paul Mullen, Buddy Messinger, Roy Stewart, Mary Louise Miller, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Charlotte Mineau, Spec O'Donnell, Lloyd Whitlock
Written by: Frances Marion, Winifred Dunn, George Marion Jr., C. Gardner Sullivan
Directed by: William Beaudine, Maurice Tourneur, Sidney Franklin
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 274
Date: 03/19/2013

Mary Pickford: Rags & Riches Collection (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sweetheart Land

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 1919, Mary Pickford formed United Artists with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith. At the time, she was arguably the most popular of the four, but today she's probably the least remembered or respected.

It's a conundrum. Even those who love and appreciate Pickford can't make much of an argument for her films. She fell into a specific screen persona ("America's Sweetheart") that required a certain kind of formula film, and despite many successful years and more than 200 shorts and features, she never really broke out of it or made any kind of masterpiece. (Her one potential pinnacle, an outing with Ernst Lubitsch called Rosita, ended in violent disagreements.)

Yet there are things to love in Pickford's films. She usually plays a young girl with long, blonde ringlets (or pigtails); Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is probably her best-known film. But she was a gifted actress, able to shift effortlessly between comedy and drama, and she always showed intelligence and spunk within her limited roles. Off-screen, she was a clever and canny businesswoman, a fierce producer who knew exactly what she wanted and was ably rewarded for her ideas.

In 2005, Milestone Film and Video released three restored Mary Pickford DVDs (Heart o' the Hills, Suds, and Through the Back Door) and now they have added a new three-disc Blu-ray set with three new features and one short.

Perhaps the most notable of these is William "One Shot" Beaudine's Sparrows (1926), a harrowing tale of a nasty fellow called "Mr. Grimes" who runs a "baby farm" in the swamp. (He has a quicksand pit in his front yard.) Pickford is Molly, the oldest of the orphans, and the one who cares for the rest of them, including a sick little baby. Grimes kidnaps a plump baby (with golden curls), an event that sets in motion the orphans' escape through the alligator-ridden swamps. The brackish atmosphere creeps in everywhere, and Beaudine establishes a confident tone to go with the heightened theatrics. You find yourself rolling your eyes while simultaneously wringing your hands.

The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917) is another of the features, one that was singled out and selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry. The feature The Hoodlum (1919) and the short Ramona (1910) are also included. Milestone has designed their box set to appeal to kids who might not have ever seen -- or have any interest in seeing -- films from the silent era. The quality of the transfers is superior.

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