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Mary Pickford was only 17 years old when she began making movies for
the American Biograph Company in the spring of 1909. She was already a
veteran stage performer, and not especially proud of working in what
was then considered a lowly offshoot of the theater. According to later
accounts, however, she quickly recognized the extraordinary talent of
her primary director, D.W. Griffith, and soon came to appreciate the
quality of the films they made together, and the larger importance of
motion pictures as an art form and a tool of universal communication.
In those early days movie actors were not identified in their films'
credits, so after more than a year of hard work Mary confronted her
bosses at the studio and requested that she receive on-screen billing.
When they refused her request, Mary departed.
In December of 1910 she signed with Carl Laemmle's IMP, i.e. the Independent Motion Picture Company. Laemmle, who would later found Universal, lured Mary with a $175-a-week salary and the promise of on-screen billing. Initially, she was also pleased to be working with another Biograph veteran, Owen Moore, whom she secretly married early in 1911. Miss Pickford would later admit that the impulsive marriage was a grave mistake. By all accounts the handsome and superficially charming Moore was a mean-spirited, abusive alcoholic, and their marriage was a nightmare.
How sadly ironic, then, that Mary Pickford's second IMP release, a one-reel drama entitled The Dream, features her playing opposite her real-life husband in a scenario that reflects their life together. According to film historian Charles Musser the story was written by Mary herself, which suggests that when it was made this movie represented both a disguised slice of autobiography and (in its hopeful ending) a wish-fulfillment fantasy. Moore portrays a drunken, philandering husband who staggers in after a night on the town, torments his wife with his infidelity, then passes out on their living room sofa. Unconscious, he dreams of a role-reversal turnabout in which it is Mary who misbehaves. He envisions her as a wild, "loose" woman, garishly dressed, smoking, drinking and carrying on with men. The vision is so horrific that he awakens as chastened as Scrooge on Christmas Day, vowing to stay sober and treat his wife with respect.
In real life Moore never reformed, and Pickford ultimately divorced him in 1920 -- paying him a hefty settlement -- so that she could marry Douglas Fairbanks. As for The Dream, technically speaking it is no better than the other movies Mary appeared in for Laemmle: they were produced quickly and cheaply, with none of the finesse that made Griffith's Biograph dramas exceptional. Director Thomas Ince was still learning his craft at this point; he would go on to have a distinguished career (unfortunately curtailed by an untimely death), but his work here is that of a beginner. The Dream is enacted on two simple sets, and its story could just as easily have been conveyed in a stage play. But because of the autobiographical element this film stands out from the standard fare Mary appeared in at IMP, and Pickford fans will find it of special interest. Incidentally, in addition to his other unfortunate traits, this film reveals that Owen Moore was also an insufferable ham.
A couple of notes place our understanding of this film in a different light than that alluded to by the earlier writer. This was probably Thomas Ince's second film for IMP, after Little Nell's Tobacco. As a new director just come from theater, it is unfortunate to expect the same ability to be displayed by him as that of Griffith, who had been making one reelers for more than two years and had largely redefined the form. Also, Mary Pickford, herself has traditionally been credited as scenarist for the film. It should not be seen as exploitative of her, but perhaps even as an effort on her part to provide a social commentary on a situation she knew first hand.
This is a good short dramatic feature, highlighted by a nice dual role
for Mary Pickford. The story allows her a chance to show her
versatility in playing different kinds of material, and this was likely
the kind of performance that eventually earned her the more prominent
roles that brought her to stardom.
At the beginning of the story, Pickford's character is a neglected wife, whose brutish husband goes out carousing and then comes home and mistreats her. Then, there is a dream sequence, in which her character plays an entirely different role. The story is simple but good, and it offers a nice little showcase for Pickford's many talents. It's certainly of interest for that alone, and overall it's not bad either.
The real surprise for me was seeing the wonderful character actor J.
Farrell MacDonald so young!
If you check his credits everyone who lists his 327 films as an actor start with his appearance in The Scarlet Letter (1911) which premiered April, 11 in 1911.
Now I did a little detective work and The Scarlet Letter was produced by the Independent Moving Pictures Co. of America (IMP). This is the same company that made The Dream which premiered January 23 of 1911 (nearly three months before his first previously know film appearance.)
The next film on the program was also an Imp production, Sweet Memories released 27 March 1911. This then would make MacDonald's second film, and it too before the recognized Scarlet Letter which premiered in April of that same year. I find all this interesting and his history now needs to be rewritten.
Now you may ask me if I am sure it was J. Farrell MacDonald? Well I know him from his work (see below) and if you have never heard of this fascinating man look up his biography.
After appearing in eight films in 1911, he became a director for IMP, then Biograph (learning from D. W. Griffith), before he was hired by no less than L. Frank Baum to run his movie studio making films based on Baum's OZ books! It was while making The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914) that he hired and introduced two little known actors by the names of Hal Roach & Harold Lloyd! (He directed Roach three times in 1914 alone and they became fast friends. And he met Lloyd back in 1913 when he made Rory o' the Bogs (1913))
MacDonald would go on to direct 46 films before 1919 when a fellow director, John Ford encouraged him to switch to acting full time. He started his career in the Ford stock company appropriately with Roped (1919) and would appear in 25 films for John Ford. Later he would make three films for Frank Capra and eight film for Preston Sturges,
Some of the classic films he helped make all the more special by appearing in them are: Sunrise (1927); Show Boat (1936); Sullivan's Travels (1941); Meet John Doe (1941); The Palm Beach Story (1942); The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944); A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945); It's a Wonderful Life (1946); My Darling Clementine (1946) and Unfaithfully Yours (1948).
"The Dream" was introduced by Christel Schmidt who was there to set up the 10 early Mary Pickford short films screening that night, all from 1909 to 1911 and to sign & sell her lovely new book on Pickford, Queen of the Movies. If you ever have the opportunity to see a Mary Pickford film on the big screen please do, she really knew how to act. And Schmidt's background stories and quotes from noted historians and Pickford herself surely add to the occasion.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Thomas Ince made rapid progress in the motion picture business,
progressing from actor to director, as I outline in my biography of
Ince, but this required he quickly learn the rudiments of film
directing and technique. Mary Pickford had just left Biograph and D.W.
Griffith for a starring position at IMP, where she was paid $175 a
week, and Ince became her director.
The Dream (1911) was one of their first films, with a scenario credited to her. It also parallels Ince's 1908 one act play, Lizzie's Dream, about an overworked maid who falls asleep to believe that she has an inheritance which her employer's miserly family try to steal, only to lose their own money. The Dream opens with Pickford's real-life husband, Owen Moore, enacting a role recalling his own heavy drinkinga swell who becomes intoxicated in a restaurant with another woman. His wife is at home, concerned, until he comes in and collapses on the sofa in a drunken stupor.
Falling asleep, he imagines that instead his wife drinks, behaves boisterously, and goes to the restaurant with a man who is not her husband. He follows them, panicked, and is dismayed by what he sees. Returning home in despair, he commits suicide, at which point he awakens from the dream. His wife has to persuade him that all the events were in his mind. The couple reunite, and he reforms.
The structure of the narrative allows the meaning of the two sets, the restaurant and the home, to be interpreted in contrasting ways. The restaurant is a place of temptation and drink, but where it once permits the husband to act out every desire, it can also do the same for his wife and leave him humiliated. The home should be a refuge, and becomes so at the end, after the husband's return had extended into it the unruliness of the restaurant. By the conclusion the restaurant has become a place that frightens the husband. While the ten minute The Dream reflects little that is notable in technique, it does impress in the way the story facilitates the dual possible characteristics that lead to the reformation.
My score of 7 is for a 1911 film. Compared to later films, I wouldn't
be nearly as generous. However, for 1911, a ten minute long morality
tale is about the norm for that day and age. Just a few years later,
films would have much more depth and be less preachy. And, more
importantly, Mary Pickford would go on to make much better films.
This film begins with a drunk jerk coming home after a night of carousing. He is in a foul mood and kicks over furniture and behaves like a boorish idiot. His long-suffering wife (Pickford) responds by donning her fancy duds and leaving--out to have a good time carousing herself! Apparently, she thinks that if it is okay for him, it is okay for her as well! Well, this is like a nightmare for the stupid husband and he does what any self-respecting man would do in such a situation--he kills himself!! However, it all turns out to be a bad dream and the man, naturally, promises to be a good boy from now on and the movie ends.
Not exactly subtle stuff, but this Thomas Ince film is very similar to Pickford's previous films she made for D.W. Griffith--preachy and simple.
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