Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Interlude: Silent Movie Time

AFI Silver provided another opportunity to see a classic film on a big screen - in this case the seldom seen Mary Pickford silent Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall (1924).  We are all used to seeing Mary Pickford as the waif, her beautiful curls hanging low to her back.  But this film features Mary as the heiress to Haddon Hall, a tempestuous beauty who defies her father by falling madly in love with the son of a rival family.  

So, how different is this from Pickford's usual films?  Well, it is set in the 1560s (an early scene shows young Dorothy Vernon's betrothal - that is dated 1550).  And, Dorothy is quite wealthy; she frequently wears her hair up (imagine - the curls hidden!!)  But what doesn't change is the spirit of the character Ms. Pickford portrays.  Dorothy has spunk, as does Ms. Pickford, who did most of her own stunt work.  There is a rather amazing horse ride (and Dorothy is riding side-saddle), across a narrow wall, over a gap in the wall, and down a gully.  You can clearly see Ms. Pickford in most of the action (a stunt double comes in for a small, fairly risky, piece of the action).

Our screening was enhanced by the presence of the author of a new book:  Mary Pickford Queen of the Movies. Christel Schmidt discussed the film in some detail, including the introduction of the Sir John Manners, played by Allan Forrest.  Forrest was Pickford's brother-in-law (his wife, and Mary's sister, Lottie Pickford Forrest plays Dorothy's maid, Jennie).  And while Forrest is a nice enough looking man, it seems he was not all that muscular.  So, for an opening scene in which we see Manner's bare back, a body double was substituted - the back belongs to Pickford's husband, Douglas Fairbanks! 

Ms. Schmidt will be touring the country, doing screenings of Pickford films, including Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall.  The film will have (as ours did) live musical accompaniment.  If you have the opportunity to see it, do.  You'll really enjoy it.