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Charles 'Buddy' Rogers,
Norma Besant, daughter of a Southern doctor, is an incorrigible flirt and has many boys on her string. She begins to favor Michael Jeffrey, who, shiftless and hot-tempered but fundamentally honorable, is warned off by her father. When Michael returns after a long absence, the pair are innocently compromised, and Dr. Besant's old-South paternal rage brings tragedy. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Mary Pickford won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in this film - and this fact has dominated the way people have treated it over the years. Yes, perhaps her award had more to do with her power than her performance - but the performance is actually pretty good. At times she rises to great emotional heights - the death scene is quite extraordinary and the court-room sequence powerful. Of course she's too old for the role - but she was too old for nearly every part she ever played, and just a few years later Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer played Romeo and Juliet to great acclaim - so such age issues were probably not issues in 1929.
It is true that she talks a little like an adult Shirley Temple (did Shirley model herself on Mary - they certainly played many of the same roles?)- but her silent acting is excellent - her looks can really kill.
The supporting cast is not very good, except for the wonderful Louise Beavers, - but Johnny Mack Brown is devastatingly handsome as Mary's love interest. The script betrays its stage origins, and the film suffers the same problems most early talkies suffer - inadequate use of music, poorly synchronised sound effects, completely absent sound effects (eg doors opening and closing silently), and limited movement of both actors and camera.
But all things considered this is a worthwhile little film - certainly not great but not as bad as myth would have it. And the ending is really gorgeous. Watching the great silent stars struggling in early talkies, I always feel that they were learning a new craft, just as the cameramen, directors and writers were. Sadly the audiences were less forgiving of their beloved stars than they were of those unseen behind the camera, and rejected them before they had a chance to develop a new acting technique. I can't help thinking that, if they had been given the chance, many of these actors would have been great talkie actors. The technicians were allowed to develop but, by the time they were skilled enough to make the actors look and sound good, most of the old stars had gone. The supreme example of a silent star who was allowed to develop is, of course, Garbo - and, to a lesser extent, Ramon Novarro (but he could sing - which helped). Is it possible that, given the same opportunities as Garbo, we may have seen Fairbanks, Pickford, Talmadge, Swanson, Bow, Brooks, Gish, Gilbert, Colleen Moore, Leatrice Joy etc for many more years than we were allowed? But within ten years of this film being made Gilbert and Fairbanks were dead, Gish was carving out a new career on the stage, Pickford, Swanson, Bow, Talmadge, Brooks and Moore had retired, Joy was doing the occasional character role and even Ramon Novarro was out of work. What a waste!
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