I saw 'Innocence of Lizette' at the Cinema Muto festival in Sacile, Italy, in 2006; their Desmet print was restored from a beautifully tinted and toned source print in the Nederlands Filmmuseum with Dutch translations replacing the original American credits and intertitles. As is often the case in foreign prints of silent films, there has been some rewriting as well: the heroine's name is now Liesje, and the film's new (Dutch) title translates as "Liesje's Un-Guilt".
The supporting cast includes two performers named Eugene Forde and Eugenie Forde. I'd previously seen their names (separately) in other films, and I'd assumed they were related. Viewing them here in the same film, I see no resemblance between them ... and apparently this is the only time they ever worked together, at least in a movie. (They separately had long stage careers.) Eugene Forde, elsewhere a movie director but here an actor, is spelt in the cast list as 'Ford', possibly to emphasise that he's no relation to Eugenie Forde.
In the Nederlands print, all the characters' names have been 'Dutched' ... not only does Lizette become Liesje, but Dan Nye becomes Daniel Clarck, Granny Page becomes Mother Nelton, and so forth. The real gobsmacker on this cast list is the wealthy industrialist played by Harvey Clark. In the original American prints of this film, he was named Henry Fauer. For some reason -- maybe anti-German sentiment? -- the Dutch exhibitors have changed his name to Henry Ford! Viewers of this retitled Dutch print might make the understandable error of assuming that the wealthy industrialist named Henry Ford in this film is THE Henry Ford, the real-life automobile magnate. Since there are already two Fordes in this movie, confusion is rampant.
One plot detail may elude modern viewers: in 1916, when abortions were illegal and extremely dangerous, an unmarried girl who got 'in trouble' was often sent away from home for several months, so that the neighbours wouldn't notice her developing pregnancy.
This Dutch print is -- and I hope that my Internet detractors are reading this -- a perfect example of the hazards (for me, or anyone) of attempting to synopsise any silent film accurately, since re-edited prints are commonplace, and errors creep into translations. "Liesje's Un-Guilt" clearly deviates at several points from the original 'Innocence of Lizette'. I can only describe the Dutch version which I saw, knowing that some Internetter will accuse me of errors (or worse) because they've seen a different print of this American film which doesn't match my synopsis.
Right, then: Here goes. Liesje -- looking about 12 years old, but played by teenage Mary Miles Minter -- is an orphan girl who is totally innocent of all sexual matters, including where babies come from. (That death rattle you hear is this film's plausibility. I spent part of my pre-adolescence in an Australian orphan institution in the 1950s, and we all got far more sexual indoctrination than we needed. I doubt that it was much different in American orphanages in 1916.) Liesje is adopted by wealthy Henry Ford. She is uncomfortable and awkward in her new posh surroundings. Partly because of this, Liesje is sent away for several months ... during which she matures (physically but not otherwise) enough to make it clear that her body is more mature than her childish demeanour.
Apparently word has got out that Henry Ford (the one in this movie) is a sucker for adopting orphans; when Liesje returns to the mansion of Daddy Warbucks -- I mean Henry Ford -- she finds a foundling on his doorstep. In her utter innocence and naivete, Liesje appropriates this baby as her own 'doll', and she tells everyone that the child belongs to her! Since Liesje was away for several months, the neighbourhood gossips now leap to what is (for 1916) the most obvious conclusion. But all ends semi-happily.
Mary Miles Minter was the best possible casting for this role, as it exploits both her child-like behaviour and her nascent sex appeal. We accept her as a pre-adolescent who is utterly innocent (in every sense), yet we are also aware of her developing sexuality.
The nearly bald character actor Harvey Clark gives a stand-out performance as Liesje's foster father. I fondly recall Harvey Clark squaring off against Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in 'Putting Pants on Philip' and giving as good as they gave him. Any actor who can hold his own against Stan and Ollie deserves to be better known. Why is Harvey Clark unfairly forgotten?
Mary Miles Minter is one of those tragic figures (others being Roscoe Arbuckle, Wallace Reid, William Desmond Taylor and -- arguably -- Louise Brooks) whose career can never be merely regarded in its own right, as it's so thoroughly overshadowed by a scandal. Minter was the protegee and lover of Taylor at the time of his murder and the ensuing scandal; she was also a leading suspect in the crime, which remains unsolved. I believe that the explanation in the excellent book 'A Cast of Killers' is the nearest we'll ever get to the truth in the Taylor case. Following Taylor's murder, Minter's promising career ended quickly: she was washed-up in silents even before the arrival of talkies, and she spent the last decades of her life as a child-like recluse, a grotesque combination of Norma Desmond and Shirley Temple.
Many of the great screen actresses owe their discovery and stardom to one particular director, but they usually managed to become independent of that early relationship ... so that, for instance, Dietrich without von Sternberg, or Garbo without Stiller is still a superb actress. William Desmond Taylor was Minter's mentor, but 'Innocence of Lizette' -- directed by James Kirkwood -- proves that Minter's talents weren't dependent on Taylor. Oh, heaven! She was beautiful! I'll rate this film 7 out of 10, and I hope that this review doesn't get me in (ahem) Dutch with my Internet detractors.
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