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I doubt if the costuming involved in this movie fooled anyone for an instant. Mary Pickford is clearly Mary Pickford. But she was playing a role and the audience of the time -- and I -- have no problem accepting her in the part of a boy, any more than I have a problem with the fact that Peter Pan is invariably played by a woman. I think she is perfect in the role.
This is a warm and funny version of the story, enlivened by Miss Pickford and a wonderful supporting cast, including Claude Gillingwater as the grouchy earl, D.W. Griffith regular Kate Bruce as an old apple seller and Mary Pickford as Fauntleroy's mother. People may have trouble with the sentimental story and tone, but if you accept the tale then you should have no complaints as to its manner of telling. Again, I have no problem with the story and think it compares favorably with the sound version produced by Selznick fifteen years later. True, no one can top C. Aubrey Smith as a grouchy English aristocrat, but Freddy Bartholomew was always annoying as Fauntleroy -- or, indeed, as anything.
No discussion of this movie would be complete without mentioning cameraman Charles Rosher's wizardry. There is a wonderful shot as Pickford as Fauntleroy kisses Dearest on the cheek, done so casually and effortlessly as to make it easy to miss; but it took 18 hours to film correctly. We are also confronted with the fact that Pickford as Fauntleroy seems to be about four and a half feet tall. Miss Pickford was a short woman, but she was a lot taller than that. Fans of the LORD OF THE RING trilogy are doubtless now familiar with the idea of forced perspective and doubled sets; but to watch the results done in 1921 without computer aids, optical printing or computer effects to aid the process and you will begin to get an idea of what a genius Rosher was.
My warmest thanks to the fine people at Milestone for producing this DVD release. The story is that Miss Pickford was going to have her pictures destroyed at her death because she felt that time had passed them by. She was talked out of this fancy. We can only be glad.
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