Even in the early 1900s the Italian Mafia was used for stories. Of course they were/are awful people who commit insane crimes to get what they want and scare people. The Mafia is used to drive the plot of the 1916 silent film Poor Little Peppina.
Robert Torrens is a wealthy American living with his wife and daughter in Italy. Unbeknownst to him one of their help is the head of the Mafia named Soldo. One of the other helpers Pietro catches Soldo stealing wine from the cellar and calls for Robert. Robert dismisses Soldo. In revenge for his dismissal Soldo he kills Pietro. He is caught and put in jail for life. One month later Soldo escapes with some help from of his Mafioso. He gets his revenge against the Torrens family by taking the daughter Lois away in the night. Soldo has someone tell a story to the police about how they saw a man and a child drowning in the ocean. He takes Lois to his wife Bianca and tells her to raise the child as her own.
Fifteen years later Lois is now Peppina (Mary Pickford) and Soldo has fled to America. Peppina is to be married off to a man Bernando that she despises. She has been taking English lessons from an American Duchess who took a liking to her. She goes to the Duchess and asks if she can intervene on her behalf to stop the marriage from going through. The Duchess cannot interfere with the customs of peasant life but she does give Peppina the name of her brother in America and some money to get there. At her home, a betrothal party is held for her and she is miserable. Bernando tries to grab her to come dance with him. She fights her way out of his embrace and runs away to a ruined castle. Her brother Beppo (Jack Pickford) knows where she is and brings her provisions as well as a suit for her to wear to America.
In her running Peppina loses her money and the card with the Duchess’s brother’s name on it. She decides to stowaway on a ship bound for America. On the ship she follows a plate of food to a room. Staying in the room is a handsome young man named Hugh Carroll. He finds Peppina under the bed. He is kind to her. Unfortunately Hugh believes she is a boy since she is wearing Beppo’s suit and cap. Peppina kind of falls in love with Hugh and becomes a bit jealous when she sees him speaking to a socialite on the ship. When the ship docks Peppina asks a guy to help get her off the ship without being noticed. The guy brings her to a bar near the dock. The bar is run by none other than Soldo and his man Villato who helped in her kidnapping.
Peppina works in the bar until Soldo and Villato do something to make her leave. Still playing to the fact that people believe she is a boy Peppina gets a job as a messenger boy. Something happens and she is arrested. At the police station she is questioned so hard that she finally confesses to being a girl. Hugh is taking the place of a fellow lawyer and is called down to the station. In the months after being on the ship he has been looking for Peppina. He is surprised to find out she is a girl but despite that fact he wants to help her.
In the meantime Soldo and Villato have read that Robert and his wife have left Italy for good and are now living in their home in New York. Soldo thinks this would be a great time to ransom off Peppina even though it has been fifteen years. He writes home to his wife to send Peppina and she writes back that they cannot find Peppina.
Peppina told the police her story of working for Soldo and the police raid the bar. Soldo and Villato are brought in for questioning. Soldo realizes that the boy he had hired is Peppina and confesses to her kidnapping.
No surprise, Peppina is reunited with her mother and father and a few years later Hugh asks her to marry him.
Poor Little Peppina was a good Mary Pickford film. It is one of her films I enjoyed because there was no overacting and the plot was not complicated. Best of all it is less than hour long so the story moved at a good pace and kept on point. I liked seeing a story that used the Italian Mafia in the early 1900s. I do not know a lot about the mob. What I do know has come from my family constantly quoting The Godfather and Goodfellas and hearing stories about my aunt’s boyfriend’s father who was head of the mob and killed by Gotti. It was interesting to see how they were portrayed in an early silent film. Poor Little Peppina is available to view in full on YouTube and is worth watching.