This is an odd film with strong points and other points that many will dislike. It is the first film that I know of that has no titles ("The Last Laugh", which usually gets credit for this was made several years later in 1924). That sets it apart as an innovative film. The story is also unusual. It is a group of loosely related typical incidents in the daily life of a country boy of around 1900. The incidents are well chosen for their universality and I am sure that they brought back memories for the audience that viewed the film in 1921. However, there is no real plot and the thing that makes the film move forward is discovering the character of the boy and recognizing times in your own life that are similar.
On the down side, however, the film shows a world that most people would find distant, strange and very old fashioned. I watched part of this with a my 21 year old son and had to explain many of the things that would have been instantly recognizable to the audience in the past. For example, the reason the boy was so uncomfortable when he put on shoes is he had gone barefoot most of the summer and shoes get uncomfortable when you do that. My son's remark was that kids don't go barefoot even in the country because there are too many broken beer bottles.
However, if you allow yourself to get past the normal resistance to watching something "old fashioned", you begin to get drawn into the character of the boy. Maybe you didn't attend a one room school house as he did, but you probably can remember being infatuated and rejected by a pretty girl, or how some innocent distraction caused you to become embarrassed in front of the whole class when you were called upon by the teacher. The boy (very well played by Charles Ray - a major actor in his day) is charming and full of energy, but he avoids being cute and saccharine. He is never a brat, because he understand how a boy can be can end up doing mischievous things without ever intending to do them. When he gets caught and punished, he takes it without any moral lesson and without being a rebel. He has no agenda - he is just a kid trying to get along while being driven by a body that is full of life and energy. He tussles with his friend, and then they are buddies again
until they get into another fight. He is not above the temptation of
stealing a watermelon and sharing it with his friends. Occasionally he gets away with something as most kids do. You get the feeling by the end of the picture that he is far from perfect, but is probably someone you would like to know.
Old fashioned, not relevant to today, characters that may seem too "wholesome", no real plot, a silent film - these are all things that could turn a modern audience off, so the movie is not for everyone, and probably not for most. But, if you are willing to give it a chance you will find it is charming, refreshing, evocative and funny, and it will leave you with the pleasant feeling of having just lived through a sunny summer's day.
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