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Daddy Long Legs

10 Jun

Daddy Long Legs – Directed by Marshall Neilan. Melodrama. A mischievous orphan girl is helped by a mystery man. 85 minutes Black and White with Color Filters, Silent 1919.

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Isn’t this what we’ve always wanted: an unknown benefactor who sees through our detractors’ faults and banks us and banks on us and appears at the end as…. Ah, yes. And so our Miss Mary plays the juvenile orphan on this path, but with many a digression into naughty pranks and hijinks, which solidify the stark disapproval of the matron – but that’s what matrons are for, aren’t they? Some of these antics read like vaudeville turns, for Mary Pickford trod the boards from small childhood in second rate theatre companies touring through Canada and the States, and there she not only learned her craft but the tricks of the trade. So she’s a lot of fun as the movie marks time with a close-order-drill of great energy and variety until it gets on with the plot, which has to do with social rank, of course.  She is really wonderful here, and why is that? Because she is a fine film actress, one might say a revolutionary actress. Everything is simple unselfconscious as only plenty of rehearsals can provide. She does everything immediate and small. She was the first actress in film history to ever have a close-up. And how right that is, for the entire character registers on her visage in response to the forces that beset both her and the orphans around her. You will be interested to see the costumes of the period. And how smoking played such a large part in film acting from the time film started until quite recently. Tobacco in all its forms was the greatest of all actors’ props. It was versatile, it gave something for the actor to do, it was expressive, it could define mood and power. It gave one pause. It gave one interruption. It gave one romantic liaison. Take a look at Daddy Long Legs’ use of it here. It rises like an infernal emanation from behind the back of that chair, like a volcano not yet disturbed.

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