'Bunty Pulls the Strings' stars Leatrice Joy, a silent-film actress who did her best and most popular work in comedy roles. Although Joy was a major box-office name in her own right, she is now remembered mostly for marrying John Gilbert, the leading man whose career -- more conspicuously than that of any other silent-film actor of either sex -- was ruined by the arrival of talking pictures. I've had the great delight of meeting Leatrice Gilbert Fountain -- daughter of Leatrice Joy and John Gilbert -- and listening to her reminisce about her parents and the people she's known from Hollywood's earliest days.
'Bunty Pulls the Strings' takes place in the obscure Scottish village of Lintlehaugh. All the characters are rural Scots, and the inter titles of this film contain some unfortunate 'braw bricht the noo' dialect. Tammas Biggar owns the village's only shop, and is therefore one of the wealthier locals. His elder son Jeemy has been prosecuted for embezzling £120 (a considerable sum in 1921) from the funds Biggar is holding in trust for Susie Simpson, a mean-spirited local spinster. Biggar's younger son Rab is 'saft' and lazy; he wants to move to Glasgow, where he can blend right in. Biggar's middle child is his bright daughter Bunty, who is engaged to Miss Simpson's nephew Weelum Sprunt. Weelum is considered a very respectable catch, because he holds the collection plate at the local church. Bunty keeps house for her father and Rab, but of course this will end once she's married to Weelum.
Had enough plot yet? There's more! Decades ago, before his eventual marriage to Bunty's mother (now deceased), Biggar was betrothed to Eelen Dunlop but he abandoned her at the altar. She fled Lintlehaugh in disgrace, and has never returned.
The conniving Miss Simpson makes Biggar an offer tantamount to blackmail: if he agrees to marry her, she will move into Biggar's house and assume Bunty's duties as housekeeper. If Biggar refuses to marry her, he must hand over the entire trust fund or face prosecution. Just at this moment, along comes Eelen Dunlop for the first time in decades, with her niece Maggie in tow. Biggars has regretted his matrimonial cowardice, and now he wants to marry Eelen, especially as the marriage will force Susie Simpson to abandon her scheme. But if he marries Eelen, he'll have to stravage up the quids to buy off Susie Simpson.
MINOR SPOILER NOW. The title of this movie tells us what's going to happen ... which is obvious anyway, since Leatrice Joy's Bunty is the only intelligent and honest person in the film. Bunty steps in and swiftly puts everything right, even finding a job for Maggie.
I'm very interested in depictions of Scottish life during the time period in which this (American) film was made, but neither the production design nor the actors' performances convinced me that this was anywhere in Scotland. The Harry Lauder dialogue doesn't help. As the villainess, dumpy Josephine Crowell is so physically repulsive, I wanted to speed-crank my Steenbeck viewer every time she came on screen. Raymond Hatton was a gifted character actor, but here -- as the gormless Weelum -- he's so dull-witted and unattractive that I found it difficult to believe that Leatrice Joy's Bunty -- bright, energetic, very pretty with her long black hair -- couldn't do better, even in a place like Lintlehaugh. Och aye, ye ken I cannae rate this unfunny and obvious comedy any higher than 2 out of 10. My Scottish forebears would have cried this movie 'dreicht' ... which is no' a compliment, laddie.
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