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Anne of Green Gables (1934)

anne_of_greenThe Anne of Green Gables film that was released in 1934 is definitely not for purists. The author herself, L.M. Montgomery, said it was not her book at all. However, the film has a lot of charm and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And considering that the film is only 78 minutes long, it’s actually a pretty fair adaptation.

Anne of Green Gables is one of those stories that rarely needs an introduction. It’s like Little Women – Anne Shirley has a life of her own, just as Jo March does. L.M. Montgomery wrote the novel in 1908 and the book has had many adaptations – including during the silent era in 1919.

One year after releasing Little Women with Katharine Hepburn, RKO bought the rights to Anne of Green Gables and cast Dawn O’Day, a child actress who subsequently changed her name to Anne Shirley (and who I still associate with Stella Dallas and Murder, My Sweet).

Because the film is so short, the story becomes less about the life of Anne Shirley at Green Gables and more about her adoption, how she becomes part of the family and finds a home at Green Gables. Even Gilbert Blythe kind of ends up adopted at the end of the film.

The film begins fairly faithfully with Matthew Cuthbert (O.P. Heggie) and Marilla Cuthbert (Helen Westley) attempting to adopt a boy. They are sent a girl, however, who instantly captures the heart of the taciturn Matthew. Marilla takes a little longer to warm up, but you can tell she is more charmed than she lets on. Helen Westley does not look like L.M. Montgomery’s description of the angular Marilla, but there are few people who play a formidable curmudgeon with a warm heart better than Westley (I always liked her in Show Boat, too).

The actress Anne Shirley was sixteen years of age when she made the film and is suitably passionate, chatty, and imaginative. Gilbert Blythe (Tom Brown) seems little on the pipsqueak side of things, especially when the characters are supposed to be old enough to marry. It is definitely easier for an adolescent female actor to play an adult than it is an adolescent male actor.

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Helen Westley and Anne Shirley

The film is actually a compression of several books and even compresses some characters. Diana’s mother, Mrs. Barry, also becomes the nosy neighbor who says Anne is an unattractive child. The film, then covers Anne’s arrival to Green Gables and how she becomes part of the home and also her feud and romance with Gilbert Blythe and Marilla’s disapproval of Gilbert and Anne’s conflicting love of Marilla and Matthew and of Gilbert.

Spoiler Alert: Matthew even gets to live in the film (though I kept expecting him to die), but once again it actually makes sense in the context of the film. By the end, Anne gets Gilbert and Matthew and Marilla will have both Anne and Gilbert. Adoption and reconciliation.  End Spoiler.

Because the location of Prince Edward Island is so important to the book (and beautifully part of the 1985 series), the film is not as stage bound as many films made in 1934. It’s not Canada, but some scenes are filmed outside on occasion and helps provide that sense of a breath of fresh air which is so a part of both Anne’s character and the story.

As I said, devoted fans of the book (and of the 1985 series) might be a bit irked by this film, but I particularly liked the emphasis placed on adoption, mutual gratitude, and love. It makes for a sweet film. It also makes me want to go back and watch the 1985 film (and 1987 Anne of Avonlea – did you know Wendy Hiller was in that film? I am a huge Wendy Hiller fan, but the last time I saw Anne of Avonlea, I had no idea who she was ).

This was part of the “O Canada Blogathon,” hosted by SpeakeasySilver Screenings. Be sure to check out the recaps for days 1,2, and 3 for most posts.

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Posted by on February 3, 2017 in Movies

 

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My Introduction to Mary Pickford

downloadMy primary introduction to silent films has come through Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, John Barrymore and Douglas Fairbanks and I thought it was about time I learned more about some silent female stars. Mary Pickford was not only a star, but possibly the first movie star. She is best remembered for playing child roles, but she more often  played adolescents and adults – often spunky, sweet, mischievous, intrepid, intense, fun-loving, sincere – she was called America’s Sweetheart.

The only book that I could find at the library, however, was Kevin Brownlow’s Mary Pickford Rediscovered: Rare Pictures of a Hollywood Legend, which is not a biography. It does, however, cover a bit about her life, as well as her legacy and discusses nearly every film she made (though it summarizes her work at D.W. Griffith’s Biograph Studios). It also contains some gorgeous pictures. Most of them were taken using still photography, a hugely laborious process that yielded stunning pictures that often employed lighting creatively.

Pickford started making movies in 1909 and retired in 1933 and the difference between a one reel, twelve minute short made with Griffith and her feature length films in the late twenties is extraordinary. Because she later produced her own films (she was a canny businesswoman) and hired her own people, she had a great deal of control over her films and they tended to be technologically at the forefront of the movie industry. She made several films where she played dual roles, which if the pictures are anything to go by, look as seamless as anything made today.

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playing a child of twelve

Brownlow is a big fan of Pickford and it was fun to get a sense of the breadth of her career. She certainly played more than children and the book made me extremely eager to see her films. I’ve often read that Daddy Long Legs (1919) is considered one of her best and has the advantage of showcasing Pickford as both a child and adult, so I took a chance and bought the DVD (it also had the advantage of being cheaper than some of her other films – quality silent films, alas, are rarely economical…several of her DVDs are going for over $100 and others have sold out).

I’d read the book by Jean Webster before and seen Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron in the 1955 musical, so I was already familiar with the story. Jerusha (Judy) Abbott is found as a baby in a trash can and sent to an orphanage that wouldn’t be out of place in a Dickens’ novel. But when she grows up, a sympathetic trustee of the orphanage persuades a nameless benefactor to send Judy to college. Her benefactor’s conditions are that she remain unaware of his identity and write him once a month to update him on her progress. Seeing his shadow on the wall, Judy calls him her Daddy Long Legs.

At college, Judy proves remarkably popular, as the brother of one of her roommates and the uncle of the other both fall in love with her. Jimmie McBride (Marshall Neilan – who is also the director of the film) is an irresponsible young man who seems to get into a lot of trouble with his car. Jervis Pendleton (Mahlon Hamilton) is nearly twice her age, very wealthy and for the first time in his life, deeply in love.

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playing a young woman

Of course, as it turns out, he is also her Daddy Long Legs, which could potentially be creepy, especially since he is able to use his authority as her benefactor to ensure that she does not go to Europe with Jimmie’s family, but spends the summer at a farm where he is able to drop by.

But Mahlon Hamilton does not play Jervis as an aggressive purser. He’s very sweet and highly conscious of the difference in their ages, which makes him respectful and non-pushy. It also helps that he only tries it once, is reminded of the age difference, and backs off.

Judy ends by becoming a successful author, as well as finding love. Thus Mary Pickford ages from irrepressible twelve year old to a responsible, but still young woman helping at the orphanage to a college girl just becoming aware of love, to a successful author…but her irrepressibility remains, despite growing more womanly before our eyes.

I have to admit to reservations about the idea of a 26 year old woman playing a child of twelve, but somehow she makes you believe the character. She comes across as largely unaffected and sincere and imbues the child with real feeling, doing it better than most child actors.

Pickford 2The film is somewhat disjointed. The first half could come straight out of Dickens, with a combination of humor and tragedy, evil orphanage matrons, kind trustees, sweet children dying, the ironic contrast of wealth and poverty, the enduring and even soaring human spirit in the midst of poverty. The second half of the film is an out-and-out romance, with a dash of the coming of age story, without a hint of irony (well, there are hints). And once again, somehow it all works. Perhaps it’s the presence of Mary Pickford.

The music is lovely, written by Maria Newman, chamber music that prominently features the violin and brought to mind Anne of Green Gables…though 1919 is a decade later than the original story by Lucy Maud Montgomery story, written in 1908. But that is partially what fascinated me about the film. It is actually reasonably close to the time period of  novels like Anne of Green Gables, Betsy-Tacy, Christy, A Little Princess, and it’s quite simply interesting to see what the world looked like, not as it was imagined in later films, but as contemporaries saw it.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2016 in Books, Movies

 

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