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The Mollycoddle (1920)

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An American who has lived much of his life outside the country returns to Arizona for the first time in years and encounters villainy.



(scenario editor), (story) (as Harold MacGrath) , 1 more credit »
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Director: Paul Powell
Stars: Douglas Fairbanks, Constance Talmadge, Wilbur Higby


Complete credited cast:
Ruth Renick ...
Virginia Hale
Henry von Holkar
Paul Burns ...
Samuel Levinski
Morris Hughes ...
Patrick O'Flannigan
George Stewart ...
Charles Stevens ...
Yellow Horse
Lewis Hippe ...
First Mate
Betty Bouton ...
Mollie Warren
Adele Farrington ...
Mrs. Warren
Albert MacQuarrie ...
Driver of the Desert Yacht
Freddie Hawk ...
Girl Hobo


What's the difference between a primitive (such as Hopi Indians or Richard Marshall the Fifth's two-fisted pioneer ancestors) and a sophisticate (in this case Richard Marshall V, raised in Monte Carlo playing polo in spats and a monocle)? Richard meets up with some Americans abroad who can't believe he's an American too. He's invited to sail with them to Galveston and then head for Hopi land in Arizona. Little does Richard know that he's stumbled onto a diamond-smuggling operation, that one of the yachting party is in the secret service on the trail of Van Holkar, their host, and that soon all of Richard's instinctual mettle will be tested, mettle he didn't know he had. Written by <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis





Release Date:

13 June 1920 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Der Mann im Koffer  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


(color toned)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


This was one of the few films in which Douglas Fairbanks did not perform most of his own stunts. Shortly after filming began, Fairbanks badly hurt his wrists while attempting a running mount of a horse when the animal got spooked and took off just as Fairbanks was jumping on her. Veteran stuntman Richard Talmadge, who had previously doubled for Fairbanks in other films for stunts that the studio deemed too dangerous for him to perform, was hired as Fairbanks' stunt double for most of the stunts in this film. See more »

Crazy Credits

"FOREWORD: Our thanks are gratefully expressed to government officials, tribal chiefs, and to the hundreds of picturesque Hopi Indians on their reservation near the Painted Desert of Arizona, who, in their savage way heartily welcomed us to their prehistoric villages and with primitive cheerfulness played an important part in this picture." See more »


Follows The Lamb (1915) See more »

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User Reviews

In which an effete Doug toughens up and becomes a red-blooded American
4 August 2002 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

Here's a feature-length silent comedy that deserves to be better known! Once we make allowances for its age, dated slang, and some predictably dated attitudes, The Mollycoddle is a surprisingly fresh and engaging comedy, especially during its action-packed second half. It was produced by its star, Douglas Fairbanks, who was always careful to see that the public got its money's worth. It's an exquisitely well produced film, beautifully photographed, and marks an early directorial effort for Victor Fleming, whose credits include Red Dust, The Wizard of Oz (most of it), and Gone With the Wind (most of it, too), a track record that ain't half bad. This may not be the most distinguished title in his resume, but it's a breezy and highly entertaining flick with something to say about modern life. At times it plays like an editorial cartoon come to life, aiming a number of wry satirical jabs at the decadence of the modern world, and even illustrates the bad guy's villainy with a brief, amusing animated sequence -- very unusual for 1920.

One minor hindrance for today's viewers is the title, an archaic term which requires explanation; a "mollycoddle," we are told, is "a body of man entirely surrounded by super-civilization," but that definition doesn't help much until the story gets under way. It turns out that the term refers to privileged, coddled young men who are essentially useless, i.e., upper-class twits. The story is a loose reworking of the basic situation in Fairbanks' earlier Wild and Woolly, and it's a premise that would be re-used repeatedly during the '20s by everyone from Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton to William Haines: a comically effete, arrogant young man must take a number of hard knocks and toughen up in order to earn the respect of his peers and the love of his leading lady. The Mollycoddle, made in the immediate wake of the First World War, offers a spoonful of nationalism as well: the silly, clownish Doug of the opening sequences must learn to become a true American, and cast off such affectations as his cigarette holder, his monocle, and his affected, pseudo-British speech patterns. By the end of the film he looks like a cowboy, and it comes as a relief.

Up top I mentioned dated attitudes; this film's very first title card puts us on guard when it thanks the "picturesque" Hopi Indians who took part in the filming, and who "in their savage way heartily welcomed us to their prehistoric villages," etc. This seeming pomposity may raise hackles today, but during the course of the movie it becomes clear that the filmmakers were more self-aware than we might have thought, initially. Throughout the film, right up to the epilogue, parallels are drawn between 'primitives' and 'moderns,' and the filmmakers make it clear that the Indians who live simply may be smarter than some may give them credit for being, while the "moderns" aren't really so different, or better. As it happens, the Hopis in the film are presented with a respect that is unusual -- and gratifying -- for Hollywood movie makers. (I wish I could say the same for the African American steward seen playing dice during the ship sequence, but at least his role is brief.) The Indians are not presented as an undifferentiated mob but as a community. Some are better educated than others, and at least one is corrupt. My favorite moment: when Doug addresses an old man with typical Ugga-Wugga gibberish, the reply is a refreshing "What the hell you talking about?"

At any rate, The Mollycoddle has a number of elements going for it: a despicable villain portrayed by Wallace Beery, an attractive leading lady (Ruth Renick) with a gratifyingly assertive role in the plot, Doug's vigorous comic dance with a portly Hopi woman, and an impressively staged avalanche sequence. New Yorkers will appreciate the effete Doug's fantasy of life in the city (cowboy shoot-outs on Wall Street), while animation buffs will enjoy the cartoon sequence. As for drawbacks, I felt that Doug's transformation from wimp to hero, while gratifying, takes too long. We're fully 45 minutes into the movie before he reaches Arizona, shaves off his silly mustache, and begins his transformation in earnest. Also, while it's nice to see the leading lady assert herself, it's also dismaying to see her fold so quickly in the face of mild opposition from the villain. Still, over all, The Mollycoddle is certainly well worth seeing today. It represents state of the art filmmaking for its era, and is even somewhat ahead of its time in surprising ways.

P.S. Oh, and guess what: when an Indian says "How!" to Doug, he does NOT reply "And how!" I'd like to heartily thank the screenwriters for not creating a cliché template for so many later, lesser comedies to follow.

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