I well and truly dislike movies in which adult women perform boys' roles. I can't understand why so many people are enchanted by the spectacle of middle-aged Mary Martin impersonating Peter Pan. This trend is especially distressing when the actress is (unlike Mary Martin) sexually attractive; trying to suspend disbelief, I attempt to persuade myself that the voluptuous shapely damsel onscreen is an underage boy ... ugh! No thanks!
This silent version of 'The Prince and the Pauper' (filmed only 5 years after Mark Twain's death) features Marguerite Clark (in her 30s) in the dual role of the two turnabout boys. As a physical impersonation of a male child, Miss Clark's performance is a failure ... especially when she wears tights and a jerkin. But this production has its merits.
Directed by Edwin S. Porter, this is very much an abbreviated version of Mark Twain's novel ... but it's fast-moving and visually distinctive. The sets are a bit too clean and stylised to convincingly depict Tudor England, especially the scenes of Tom Canty's father and the disguised prince in the London slums. To her credit, Miss Clark does a great deal of high-spirited rough-and-tumble stunt work (appropriate to the roles she's playing) even though she utterly failed to convince me that she was one boy, much less two. Regrettably, her performance as the prince is nearly identical to her performance as the pauper.
This condensed adaptation leaves out most of Twain's social satire. In his novel, Twain tried to point out the arbitrary nature of monarchy: the pauper (disguised as a prince) turned out to be quite as good a king as the prince born to that role. But this movie (along with several other film versions) clearly sides with monarchial entitlement, indicating that the displaced Prince Edward (made king by Henry VIII's death) is rightly entitled to regain his throne.
The camera set-ups and pacing throughout this movie do credit to Porter's skills as a director, and there are some good action sequences. I'll rate this movie 7 out of 10.
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