Sunday, July 1, 2012

Silent Sundays: Through the Back Door (1921)

“What we produce belongs to the world. What we possess we work for.”

            Through the Back Door is one of several of Mary Pickford’s films where she is a cute, wholesome, innocent little girl who is oblivious to the people around her who have mean ulterior motives for her and then she has to make the wrongdoers right and love her. Although this happens in several of her films the plot does not get old because the stories are all different.
            Pickford plays a Belgium girl named Jeanne. When she was five years old her young mother Louise remarried a jealous man named Elton. Elton convinced Louise to leave Jeanne behind while they go live in America. The day Louise and Elton leave for America, Louise has second thoughts and does not want to leave her little girl behind but Elton manages to drag her away. Jeanne is left in the car of her nanny Marie.
            Five years later, Louise writes a letter to Marie telling her she wants to bring Jeanne home with her to America. Marie feels like Jeanne is her own daughter since she has raised her all those years. On the day Louise comes, Marie sends Jeanne to a neighbor’s house. She tells the girl’s mother that her child has died and her body carried away in the river. Louise is heartbroken is says she never realized how much she loved her daughter until she was gone. Jeanne almost walks in on her mother and nanny speaking to each other when she gets distracted by her dog chasing a cat. Sitting on the side of the road the car carrying her mother passes Jeanne.
            Another five years later World War I breaks out. Marie fearing for Jeanne’s life sends her to America. Marie writes a letter of confession and apology to Louise for what she did and had it witnessed by the local priest. On the way to the ship Jeanne finds two orphaned little boys and takes them with her as her own children. In America she finds her mother living in Long Island. She goes up to her mother but since Louise thinks Jeanne is dead and has not seen her in ten years does not recognize her and tells a servant to take the children away from her. Jeanne and the two boys go to the kitchen. The maids make fun of her for her clothes and the other servants are cruel to her. Only the cook who also comes from Belgium is nice to her and gets Jeanne a job as a maid. Jeanne tries several times to tell Louise who she is but every time she gets pushed out of the way.
            One day while chasing after the boys who got away Jeanne meets a young man named Billy Stokes who is at the house for the weekend with his mother. From the moment he lays eyes on her he likes her. While sitting outside with Jeanne on a bench the boys start squirting each other and they accidentally hit Billy. He asks Jeanne who’s kids they are and she says that they are hers. He walks away but later on thinking he needs to be a better man still flirts with her (she eventually tells him the boys were orphans she picked up).
            Louise and Elton’s relationship has fallen apart. He is cruel and nasty to her and she has just had it with him. A young woman named Margaret Brewster is at the party along with her “brother” James. Elton flirts with her the whole day and is not very discreet about it. Louise sees them and he just tells her to go away. Before dinner, Elton gets Margaret alone at the piano. They kiss each other passionately and Louise and the guests walk into the room.
            Turning down the beds that night Jeanne leaves Marie’s note on her mother’s vanity table. Unfortunately a breeze blows the letter on the floor and another maid thinks it is trash. Jeanne was, for some reason, in Margaret’s closet. She hears Margaret and James talking. James is not really Margaret’s brother but her husband. The two of them are in a scheme together to blackmail money from people. Margaret plans to divorce him and marry Elton but James locks her in her room for the night and thus locking Jeanne in the room as well. The next morning Jeanne gets out the room and goes straight to Louise. Elton yells at her to go away that she should not be talking like that but Louise yells back at him to yell at her instead. Elton walks downstairs and overhears James and Margaret talking and learns the truth about them. Jeanne tries to tell Louise who she is at that moment but Louise is too upset.
            Crying in another room since there seems to be no other proof of her identity, Jeanne pulls her passport out of her pocket with her name and picture on it. Jeanne puts her passport on her mother’s desk as Louise is talking on the telephone. Louise sees the passport and runs to Jeanne.
            Needless to say this is a happy Mary Pickford film so mother and daughter are reunited and thrown in Jeanne and Billy get together.
            Mary Pickford was adorable in this film. She was perfect as the little kid at the beginning of the story. She was so small in height and had such little girl features she pulled off being a ten year old and a fifteen year old without a problem. What like about the Pickford films I have seen is how she switches from comedy to drama or vice versa so easily. The more films I see of Mary Pickford the more I see what a good actress she was.
            There is a scene at the beginning where Jeanne tracks footprints in her neighbor’s house and the neighbor makes her clean up. Well being a little kid Jeanne dumps water all over the floor, puts the brushes on her feet, and skates around on the brushes and soap water! It is a very Chaplin-esque scene was probably meant to be since Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were best friend with Chaplin and they would often watch each other’s films together.
            Through the Back Door is a good film with what I think is a good story. The story is not too silly or too light nor is it too heavy or too dramatic. What I really enjoyed about this film was seeing the fashion from the late 1910s/early1920s that Pickford and the other women wear in the film. Granted the film was made in 1921 and that was the modern style but I have a fascination with twenties clothing I found it interesting to actually see the clothing on these women during the actual time that just on a mannequin. Through the Back Door is very easy to sit through as there is no distractions such as side characters or pointless shots of nothing and is a film I suggest looking up to view (click here). 

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