A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Love Light (Frances Marion, 1921)

Watching Mary Pickford in The Love Light is exhausting. She is continuously on, rough-and-tumbling with her brothers, gamely sending them off to war, grieving their deaths, rescuing a sailor from drowning, hiding him from the villagers, flirting with him, discovering to her horror that he's a spy and that he may have made her the inadvertent cause of her brother's death, sending him off to the mercy of the villagers and his death. And just when it seems like she can't suffer (or act) any more, she has his baby (they were secretly married), goes mad and sees it adopted by another woman, gets it back, loses it again in a fiendish plot by the other woman, goes mad again, regains her sanity when her childhood boyfriend comes home from the war blinded, teaches him how to cope with his blindness, and eventually rescues her child from the clutches of the other woman by boarding the storm-tossed vessel in which the woman had tried to abduct the baby. It's one of those soaped-up melodramas we think of as typical of silent films, but it works, mostly because Pickford is amazing, but also because Frances Marion was such a skilled director and writer. Marion later became  the first woman to win an Oscar for something other than acting, with her award for writing The Big House (George W. Hill, 1930), though by that time she had given up directing. (As a writer, the IMDb credits her with 188 titles, though some of those are remakes of her earlier films.) Still, it's primarily a showcase for Pickford's special brand of hard, determined acting. She resembles in her determination such later stars as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, though they lacked Pickford's façade of softness (a softness masking steel). Davis would, of course, somewhat cruelly parody Pickford later in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962). One great plus to The Love Light is the fine cinematography of Charles Rosher and Henry Cronjager.

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