US Release Date: 08-25-1910
Directed by: D.W. Griffith
- Mary Pickford, as
- Clara T. Bracy, as
- Peggy's mother
- Henry B. Walthall, as
- The Lord
- Mack Sennett as
- Man at the wedding
Common Peggy being laughed at by the swells.
This is my very first viewing of of a Mary Pickford film. I was curious to see what was so unique about her that she was the first internationally known female movie star. In the silent film days she was known as America's sweetheart.
Pickford plays Peggy, a middle class young woman with lots of spunk. A man tries to kiss her and she beats him up. She catches the eye of a rich old lord passing by her home. He proposes marriage and wants to introduce her into his high society circle. She seems reluctant and things get more complicated when the lord's nephew also finds himself attracted to Peggy.
The movie is only seventeen minutes long, and is more of a curiousity than a piece of entertainment. The film never states when or where it takes place. I guess England, in the 1700s, due to the white wigs and the use of the word Lord.
Pickford has a likable enough face and demeaner. I am not sure what made her stand out from her contemporaries though. I am looking at her from a hundred years later. Perhaps if she were the first woman in a movie I had ever come to recognize, I may have fallen for her, but from my perspective, I will need to see more of her work to discover her charm.
Mary Pickford dresses as a man in Wilful Peggy.
Given the powdered white wigs on the aristocrats I'd have to agree that this story is set in the 18th century. That rather odd fashion didn't last much beyond 1795 in England when a tax was passed on the powder that went into the wig. And the French revolution put an end to it France, which is another spot where this story could be set. Clearly it's in one of those two countries.
Eric wasn't impressed with Pickford, but I thought she shows a spunky charm. In fact, although there are other actors in this short, your eyes rarely leave her. This isn't a part that requires much range. She's either smiling or throwing a tantrum, but she does have a strong screen presence.
Griffith's early shorts continue to impress me. Not only were his filming and editing techniques groundbreaking, but he was able to get very natural acting performances from his actors. The characters in his film behave like real people instead of exaggerations of them. He's also able to tell entire stories without any dialogue, not even written on the title cards, which he uses to set the scenes instead. The one thing the film is missing is close-ups, which hadn't quite come into vogue yet.
The plot is very simple, but still fairly entertaining. It's basically a morality tale where a young bride learns to appreciate her older husband with a little bit of cross-dressing thrown in for good measure.
Maybe this isn't the greatest short of all time, but Pickford has her charms.
Mary Pickford and Clara T. Bracy in Wilful Peggy.
Wilful Peggy indeed! During her formative years with D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford played everything from high drama (see The Mender of Nets) to historical costume farces such as this movie. Peggy is very close to the type of character she would become most famous for playing; an innocent childlike young woman with plenty of gumption once her back is against the wall. She handles the physical comedy like a pro and was also quite adept at humorous facial expressions. She is definitely a star in the making.
Together Griffith and Pickford were a very versatile team. Although she would go off to become the biggest female movie star on the planet and Griffith would continue making his lofty themed movies with his muse Lillian Gish, these early shorts demonstrate just how simpatico they were as director and leading lady.
Griffith was interested in telling all kinds of stories on film. He attempted just about every genre that was around at the time, even inventing some of them himself (see The Musketeers of Pig Alley). He was technically innovative as well as being a sensitive actor's director. The medium of film owes him an incredible debt.
The sets and costumes are impressive in Wilful Peggy. Clearly a pretty penny was spent by Biograph on this two-reel short. Pickford even gets to horseback ride while dressed as a man. She was the first legendary female movie star to disguise herself as a man but certainly not the last. It has become a time honored tradition in Hollywood in fact. Wilful Peggy is fun, entertaining and historically significant.
Photos © Copyright Biograph Company (1910)