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Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Taken strictly as entertainment, "Coquette" has conspicuously little going for it. By any standard it is a stodgy, dull and uncommonly boring film. As a museum piece it has rather more going for it. If nothing else it shows what even superstars of the Pickford calibre had to put up with in the earliest days of sound. Clearly everyone concerned was treating the new medium somewhat gingerly, and Pickford cannot be blamed for playing it safe. She chose a property that had already proved itself on the stage (with Helen Hayes in the lead)and provided her with a fine opportunity to emote like mad and chew up scenery.
And that proves its undoing. With a dated stage technique to draw upon, Pickford's declamatory style comes over as something from the stone age. But it unquestionably would have been more impressive to 1929 audiences, who were themselves grappling with the new technology. The film itself was a big hit, and received its share of critical praise.
The plot is ludicrous, and does come over as a filmed stage play. Pickford is much too old for her role, and most of the other characters are either caricatures or one dimensional. (I particularly like one scene where the action is interrupted by two Charleston champions who stop by to demonstrate their latest steps, oblivious to Pickford's hair tearing histrionics.) And when Pickford rushes through the town to be near her dying beloved the laughter is hard to avoid.
For all its obvious deficiencies, "Coquette" has a certain historic importance, and it gives an insight into what passed for drama (or soap opera) in 1929. Did Pickford deserve her Oscar? Probably. It's hard to tell; this sort of grand gesturing was already on the wane, but it still passed for great acting at the time. "Coquette" does not add to Mary Pickford's mystique, but it doesn't detract from it either. If it's not exactly entertainment, it's still of interest.
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