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PEG O MY HEART (Metro Studios, 1922), directed by King Vidor, under the supervision of J. Hartley Manners, introduces the legendary theatrical actress Laurette Taylor (1884-1946) to the screen reprising the role she made famous as a poor Irish farm girl who inherits a fortune but would rather have happiness instead. While a bit too old for the character supposedly in her late teens or early twenties, Laurette was tailor made for it.
The story opens in the heart of old Ireland where Jim O'Connell (Russell Simpson), an Irish patriot, is left alone to care for his little daughter, Margaret (Aileen O'Malley), whom he affectionately calls "Peg O My Heart," following the passing of his beloved wife (Sida Beth Ivans). Years pass. Margaret (Laurette Taylor), now a young woman helping her father work on his farm, finds herself being sent off to England where she is to live with her rich relatives, unaware of this arrangement provided by her father and a lawyer in order for her to collect the inheritance given to her by O'Connell's late father-in-law. While living under the roof of the Chichester family, Peg finds herself surrounded by their snobbery, with her only companions being her dog and Sir Gerald Adair (Mahlon Hamilton), a young man living in the neighborhood estate. While trying to make the best of the situation by bringing happiness to those around her, Peg becomes disillusioned when she finds out the real reason why she's been taken in by the Chichesters.
Lightweight and amusing, PEG O MY HEART is reminiscent to another old chestnut play titled WAY DOWN EAST later popularized as a 1920 movie version directed by D.W. Griffith with Lillian Gish as the poor Anna coming to live with rich relatives where she finds herself feeling out of place due to their snobbery. While WAY DOWN EAST is noted solely for its climatic snow storm sequence after the heroine has been cast out, PEG O MY HEART has no such highlights to attract interest of suspense. It pure comedy that relies mostly on Laurette Taylor's performance. Of the three silent films starring Taylor, so far PEG O MY HEART is the only survivor. Believed lost, a print was discovered in an European archive around the 1960s, restored and given limited revivals, notably in the theater section of New York City's Museum of Modern Art. To date, it's only known television broadcast was on New York's public television station, WNET, Channel 13, where PEG O MY HEART served as the third movie presentation to an eight-week series, "Lost and Found" (June-August, 1978) hosted by Richard Schickel. After the 62 minute presentation of the movie (piano scored with some footage still missing), Schickel talked more about the film and Laurette Taylor before concluding with a 17-minute silent comedy short, THE PEST (1921), starring the youthful British comedian, Stan Laurel, only a few years prior to his legendary screen partnership opposite fellow comedian, Oliver Hardy.
PEG O MY HEART was remade by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1933 with Marion Davies in a performance what many consider to be her finest achievement. The same might be said for Laurette Taylor. Regardless of Taylor's popularity along with her association of both stage and screen adaptations of PEG O MY HEART, this 1922 original has little or no impact today mainly due to it's unknown or unfamiliar list of actors including Vera Lewis (Mrs. Chichester); Ethel Grey-Terry (Ethel Chichester); D.R.O. Hatswell (Alaric Chichetser); Nigel Barrie (Christian Brent); Lionel Bellmore (Montgomery Hawkes); and Fred Huntley (The Butler).
PEG O MY HEART may serve as interest, however, to film scholars studying the early works of notable movie director, King Vidor. To get some idea of the J. Harley Manners story and play is to actually watch the Marion Davies remake whenever it's presented on Turner Classic Movies. (**1/2)
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