Sunday, February 16, 2014

Silent Sundays: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917)

“These flowers aren’t half as sweet as you.”

            If you are familiar with film history you will know that Mary Pickford was very well known for playing little girls even though she was far passed the age to be playing them. But Pickford had the perfect little girl features and height and she was good at those characters. I have seen some of Pickford’s films where she plays little girls and they were good. For this week’s Silent Sunday I watched Pickford in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. I can now see why audiences adored Pickford and her little girl roles after watching the film.
            The entire film plays out as small series of events in the life of Rebecca Randall (Pickford) set sometime in the mid-late 1800s. Rebecca is sent to live with her two aunts Jane and Miranda because her mother cannot afford to take care of all seven children in the family. The two aunts are very set in their ways and are strict. When Rebecca arrives in Riverbrook where the aunts live, she waits for the women on their front lawn since the two women are not yet home. Right away she is being taunted by one of the local girls. The girl is Minnie Smellie the preacher’s daughter. Rebecca ably holds her own against Minnie by pushing the rude girl away with the tip of her umbrella. Another girl named Emma sees everything and laughs as she watches Minnie and her gang run away. Emma goes over to Rebecca and the two become fast friends. Rebecca climbs into a tree where there is some kind of berry and throws them down to Emma. The aunts come home at this moment. Rebecca greets them by fall out of the tree.
            One day Rebecca and Emma are selling soap to help raise money for the Simpson family who are poor. Having not learned her lesson the first time Minnie comes around and begins to bother the girls. Rebecca gets down off of her wagon and goes right after Minnie chasing the obnoxious girl all over. When Rebecca finally catches her enemy she pulls off all the ribbons from Minnie’s hair and flips up her own dress in victory and walks away leaving Minnie to cry in shame. On her mission Rebecca stops at the home of a young man named Adam Ladd. Adam has just returned to Riverbrook after moving away where he gain a considerable amount of wealth. He likes Rebecca and buys a large quantity of soap making Rebecca pass out. Adam picks her up and tips his hat to her even though she is not yet a lady.
            Rebecca is eventually sent to school. Minnie’s father is giving a lecture that no one is paying attention to. He asks if anyone knows what a hypocrite is. Rebecca raises her hand to answer his question and says something about Minnie. Then she is asked to come up in front of the class and the teachers and even her aunts to recite a poem. Her “poem” goes like this:
            “ Of all the girls that are so mean. There’s none like Minnie Smellie. And when I catch      her out of school I’ll pound her into---- Jelly”

Over school break Rebecca creates a circus with the town children. She has admission set at the price of a soap wrapper. This is all done while her aunts are away for the day. The circus is held in a barn. Adam walks by and looks in the barn. He laughs in delight at what he sees. The aunts eventually come home and they are furious with Rebecca. She becomes upset that she has made her nice aunts so mad at her. She writes a note and runs away during a bad storm. The wild winds blow a piece of broken in her direction and hits her. Fortunately Adam sees her and takes her to his house. The aunts feel bad for making her run away.
            As Rebecca is recovering on the front porch in the sun, Adam comes by to visit her. She sees Mrs. Simpson and feels bad that the ladies in town do not speak to her. The reason they do not speak to is because she is not married to Mr. Simpson and she has a few children with Mr. Simpson but this is not something that Rebecca knows. She tells Adam she thinks the women in town will speak to Mrs. Simpson if she has a piece of jewelry. Adam gives Rebecca a ring to give to Mr. Simpson to give to Mrs. Simpson. Now the Simpsons are married.
            The aunts send Rebecca away to boarding school for three years. At the end of the three years Rebecca graduates with honors for having done so well.
            In the end her family’s farm is paid off and Adam, now that Rebecca is older, asks her to marry him.
            Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm was adorable. Mary Pickford was wonderful. She was funny and she was outrageously cute. She had some slapstick moments such as when Rebecca was going upstairs the back way and it was one of those types of doors that opened at the bottom and the top and she had a hard time closing it. With this scene I can picture an audience in 1917 laughing at Pickford’s antics. All the scenes where Rebecca gets back at Minnie were my favorite. Pickford played those scenes perfectly and I especially liked them because Rebecca does not get punished for doing them. Rebecca is the kind of little girl I would love to have been: fearless, funny, adventurous, and sweet.  Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is a silent film I highly recommend seeing. This is one silent film I would suggest seeing if you are interested in getting into watching silent films or Mary Pickford.