Poor Little Rich Girl, The (1917)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“Mother promised to see me, just one little minute to-day.”

Synopsis:
The lonely daughter (Mary Pickford) of a hardworking businessman (Charles Wellesley) and a socially conscientious mother (Madlaine Traverse) is placed in harm’s way when abusive servants mistreat her.

Genres:

  • Heiresses
  • Mary Pickford Films
  • Silent Films

Review:
Mary Pickford — a.k.a. “America’s Sweetheart” — remains an iconic star of early cinema, both for her enormous popularity as an actress, and for her admirable business acumen at a time when film actors were just beginning to be acknowledged for their box office potential. It’s therefore interesting that Peary only lists two of Pickford’s many films — Sparrows (1926) and My Best Girl (1927) — in his GFTFF, given that both these titles were made near the end of her career, and thus don’t represent her at the true height of her fame. For this reason, I’m recommending The Poor Little Rich Girl as a “missing title”, simply so that film fanatics will have a chance to see Pickford in one of her earlier successes — and, more specifically, to see one of her infamous portrayals as a much younger girl.

Unfortunately, the cliched storyline for TPLRG (scripted by Frances Marion, and based on a play by Eleanor Gates) isn’t all that interesting or well-told; indeed, at times it almost seems like a parody of itself, given that Pickford’s supporting cast members were intentionally chosen for their extreme height, and certain sets were built to provide a skewed vision of Pickford’s stature. Yet director Maurice Tourneur (father of Jacques Tourner) manages to turn the final third of the film — as a drugged Pickford translates some of the little-understood metaphors she’s heard into literal imagery — into a uniquely surreal Wonderland dreamscape. This section alone at least partially redeems the movie, helping to justify my claim that it’s “must-see”; however, it’s likely that any of Pickford’s other popular child-role titles — such as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917), Pollyanna (1920), or Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921) — might suffice just as well.

Note: The 1997 documentary Mary Pickford: A Life on Film (scripted by Rita Mae Brown and narrated by Whoopi Goldberg) is highly recommended as an insightful overview of Pickford’s life and career, one which places special emphasis on her role as a pioneering female businesswoman in Hollywood.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Mary Pickford as Gwendolyn
  • The inventively surreal hallucination scenes


Must See?
Yes, simply to see Pickford in one of her popular “child” roles. Selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1991.

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