the REEL WORLD: 1920

Page Me!

This is a Bobby Vernon short, about 20 minutes long. Vernon was a slapstick comedian and one of the original Keystone Cops. In this film he plays a bellhop in a tall city hotel. Particularly funny are his scenes at the reception desk, where people come up to ask after lost pets, and he retrieves progressively larger ones from under the counter. There's lots of farce involving laughing gas, and Vernon dangles insensibly from a high window in a long scene that's very reminiscent of Harold Lloyd's "high and dizzy" comedies. The print we saw at the Eastman House in Rochester, NY, unfortunately had the very few title cards (which were actually letters or signs within the film) reversed. This is a slight little film, very funny in places, but pale in comparison with Lloyd's similar work.

Suds

Another Mary Pickford film, and another one about social standing and class. Pickford, nearly unrecognizable, plays Amanda Afflick, a Cockney working in a French hand laundry (I'm guessing "French" refers to the methods of washing used). She is dressed in ragged clothes and is obviously very poor. She becomes utterly fascinated by a shirt brought in by a gentleman, and invents an elaborate fantasy that he is going to rescue her from her misery. She washes the shirt every week in hopes that he will return for it, and thereby earns herself the ridicule of the others who work at the laundry. Pickford proves herself an accomplished comedian, engaging in the sort of sight gags you'd expect to see in a 1920 film set in a laundry, but her performance also contains nuances of hope, kindness, desperation, and sadness. Her longing for the wealthy gentleman and what he represents prevents her from seeing that there is a young man of her own social standing who cares deeply for her. After the wealthy gentleman finally comes for his shirt and nothing else, Amanda is heartbroken. In a final scene that feels tacked on, Amanda and the other young man are shown together in a field, entertaining themselves and Lavender, the old work horse that Amanda has saved from the glue factory. (The sequence where Amanda rescues Lavender and brings him home to her upstairs apartment is just priceless.)

Sure enough, Eileen Whitfield, Pickford's most recent biographer, notes that this happy ending was added to the movie because audiences, accustomed to the beautiful Pickford's portrayals of beautiful, wealthy girls and women, didn't know what to make of the "ugly" Pickford, and hated the original ending. John DeBartolo's review notes the addition, and also cites some of the film's contemporary reviews.


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Emily Way (emily@vex.net)
Last updated August 19, 1998