Min and Bill (1930)

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

“Now you listen to me, you gutter rat! You or nobody else is gonna ruin that kid’s chances! No sir!”

Min and Bill Poster

Synopsis:
The owner (Marie Dressler) of a waterfront hotel encourages her adopted “daughter” (Dorothy Jordan) to leave and create a better life for herself — but will Jordan’s alcoholic birth-mother (Marjorie Rambeau) interfere with her newfound happiness?

Genres:

  • Marie Dressler Films
  • Strong Females
  • Suffering Mothers
  • Wallace Beery Films

Review:
Peary doesn’t include this early talkie — a gritty Stella Dallas-like weeper, based on a script by Frances Marion — in his GFTFF, but he lists it in his Alternate Oscars, where he nominates Dressler as one of the Best Actresses of the Year. He writes that it’s understandable the Academy Award that year went to Dressler “for her tough but softhearted waterfront saloonkeeper” — though he accurately argues that “her part [is] one-dimensional”, given that she plays “a sourpuss for an entire film”. Indeed, Dressler’s role here is both thankless and inconsistent: at first, she seems to be capitalizing on Jordan’s convenient labor to help her run her hotel (rather than sending her to school), then suddenly uses questionably harsh tactics in forcing her away from home — yet she’s meant to be viewed as a secretly loving and selfless mother-figure, someone so fiercely protective of Jordan’s ultimate happiness that she’s driven to extreme measures.

Beery — “Bill” of the film’s title — doesn’t play much of a central role in the storyline, and was clearly included simply to capitalize on his and Dressler’s status at the time as top box-office attractions (!); their extremely rough-and-tumble fight with one another (when Dressler catches Beery fooling around with Rambeau) surely appealed to audience members (see the still of the original movie poster above for further evidence of this marketing slant). Rambeau’s role, meanwhile, is terribly written: she simply shows up one day in full harridan-mode, illogically demanding respect from her long-abandoned daughter. Yet despite the script’s flaws and cliches, it’s filled with plenty of enjoyably salty dialogue:

“Cut out the applesauce — just what did you say?”
“When I was young, I used to make ’em sizzle.”
“I’ve drunk everything from bug juice to rot gut.”

While it hasn’t held up well as entertainment for modern audiences, Min and Bill is worth a look for those interested in Dressler’s erstwhile popularity.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Marie Dressler as Min (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
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  • Fine use of waterfront locales
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Must See?
No, though completists will likely be curious to see it simply because of Dressler’s Oscar-win.

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