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Viewed at CINEFEST 2009... Less Than The Dust is a little story for Mary Pickford that gives the accomplished screen artist many opportunities to display her talents.
Pickford's role is that of a little English girl who is left by her father, a dissolute officer in the British army serving in India, to a low caste Indian caretaker. She passes the early years of her life in the home of Ramlan, a native sword maker (Mario Majeroni), and only learns of her gentle birth when he is sent to prison for participation in a revolt. She then goes to England to seek out her relatives, to find that the young man invalided in the great country house of her grandfather is none other than the young officer, handsome British Captain Raymond Townsend (David Powell) she worshiped in India and whose life she saved during the rebellion. The eastern scenes are atmospheric with swarms of dark skinned men and women and their backgrounds of rich verdure and buildings of Oriental architecture. The presence of the girl amid surroundings of Occidental culture presents many chances for the rather naive kind of humor Miss Pickford knows so well how to convey. The contrast between her eastern and western selves brings out the quality she possesses in greater degree than perhaps any other screen actress the faculty of reflecting in appearance, like a chameleon, the nature of her surroundings. paraphrased from the New York Times review of November 6, 1916.
In 1916 Mary Pickford, already a major star, made five feature films. Less Than The Dust was the last one of the year but the first for Artcraft Pictures Corporation, a company created to distribute productions by Mary Pickford Film Corporation. After two years it was reduced to a distribution brand name for Paramount Pictures Corporation by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. Debonair leading man David Powell was of Scottish birth and had made his reputation on the stage before Pickford cast him in her 1914 production of The Dawn of a Tomorrow, making him a screen star. Powell's career peaked in 1921, and then he went on to appearing in serials before dying tragically of pneumonia at the age of 31 in 1925. Assistant director Erich von Stroheim had just come from assisting D.W. Griffith on directing Intolerance; his career high-points of Greed (1925) as a director and Sunset Blvd. (1950) as an actor were far ahead of him. Less Than the Dust director John Emerson also trained under Griffith and later directed seven films with Douglas Fairbanks Sr., the future Mr. Pickford. Emerson and his wife Anita Loos wrote 43 pictures together including San Francisco in 1936!
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