In the late 1800s New England, banker William Marlowe and his wife Martha have arranged for their daughter Mary to marry the officious and older Lord Hurley of England. Mary does not want ... See full summary »
In the late 1800s New England, banker William Marlowe and his wife Martha have arranged for their daughter Mary to marry the officious and older Lord Hurley of England. Mary does not want to marry Lord Hurley, but rather John Carlton, a lowly clerk at her father's bank. The two fell in love at first sight. When John and Mary's relationship is discovered by her parents, William discharges John. Knowing he can't get another job in New England, John decides to move west to California to start a new life off the land. Despite the probable hardships, Mary wants to go along and the two elope. They do face those initial hardships, most specifically an especially violent encounter with cattle rustlers, but they are able to carve out a successful life as ranchers. Twenty years, several children and a mansion of their own later, John is a popular choice to run for governor. Some past indiscretions may not only threaten his gubernatorial run but his marriage altogether. Written by
Pickford's Antiquated Swan Song Shows Her Charm and Her Age
There is a certain old-fashioned charm to this strangely truncated historical epic. Running just 83 minutes, this 1933 film offers the last performance given by silent screen legend Mary Pickford, and one feels conflicted about her performance here. On one hand, she produces some poignant moments and surprising comic ones with her character - a headstrong, late-19th-century debutante named Mary Marlow intent on marrying John Carlton who heads west in a covered wagon to raise cattle. On the other, Pickford is over forty and looks it - playing first a teenager and then a young bride and mother. Gauzy lenses aside, she never quite convinces, especially since her accentuated acting style is so reflective of the silent era.
Even with revered director Frank Borzage ("Seventh Heaven") at the helm and a script co-written by Frances Marion ("Dinner at Eight", "Camille"), there is no getting around the fact that it feels like a vanity production for Pickford to present her as relevant in the sound era. By all accounts, the effort failed. The plot follows Mary and John's courtship in New England under the suspicious glare of her tyrannical father. They head west where they face cattle rustlers and a rather lugubrious shootout at their ranch with tragic consequences. The disjointed story abruptly flashes forward years later where they now have four grown children and John becomes a contender for Governor of California. A nasty senorita shows up at a formal reception threatening to expose John's infidelities an odd plot development since we are given no hint of this character flaw before. The movie flashes forward again where John and Mary are now elderly and facing a life without obligations.
The irony with casting Pickford (whose voice bears a striking resemblance to Jean Arthur's) is that as Mary ages, she looks more physically appropriate, but she gradually loses much of the on screen vitality for which she was known. That's why the early scenes are far more entertaining even if she looks too mature for them. There is an extended, wordless scene in the cabin with her baby that does showcase why she was a fine silent screen actress. Cast against type as rowdy John, Leslie Howard comes across as much younger than Pickford even though they were almost the same age. C. Aubrey Smith ("Wee Willie Winkie") is great in the early scenes as Mary's father, while sour-voiced Ned Sparks ("Imitation of Life") shows up for typical comic relief. When the camera shows Pickford as an old lady in the Model T, there is a genuine feeling of finality to her career. The 2008 DVD is a welcome reminder of Pickford's legacy, but her earlier work will provide you with a better indication of her onscren talent.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?