Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Little Minister (1921)

(De Kleine Predikant) Pikku ministeri [käännösvirhe!] / [Mustalaismorsian] / Lilla prästen (Famous Players-Lasky, US 1921) D: Penrhyn Stanlaws; SC: Edfrid Bingham, based on the novel and the play by J.M. Barrie; DP: Paul Perry; cast: Betty Compson (Babbie = Lady Barbara Rintoul), George Hackathorne (Gavin), Edwin Stevens (Lord Rintoul), Nigel Barrie (Captain Halliwell), Will R. Walling (Dr. McQueen), Guy Oliver (Thomas Whammond), Fred Huntly (Peter Tosh), Robert Brown (Hendry Munn), Joseph Hazelton (John Spens), Mary Wilkinson (Nanny Webster); orig.: 1838 m; 35 mm, 1422 m, ca. 62' (20 fps); printed 2009 (mainly b&w, with tinted scenes, Desmet method); print source: EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Amsterdam. Nederlandse tussentitels. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Philip C. Carli, 1 Oct 2011.

David Robinson (GCM Catalogue): "J.M. Barrie’s 1891 novel and 1904 play have been adapted to the cinema at least five times, starting with a 1913 Vitagraph version starring Clara Kimball Young, and most famously the 1934 version starring Katharine Hepburn as Babbie, the girl from the local great house, masquerading as a gypsy. In this version the role is played by Betty Compson, at her most endearing, two years before she worked in Britain in Graham Cutts’ Woman to Woman and The White Shadow (also featured, in its surviving parts, in this year’s Giornate). Barrie’s story is set in his fictional village of Thrums, no doubt modeled on Barrie’s hometown of Kirriemuir, in the 1840s. The new young pastor finds himself caught up in the battle between the local weavers, protesting against exploitation, and the military determined to suppress unrest. He finds himself drawn to the mysterious Babbie, to the disapproval of the village elders. This film version uniquely changes Babbie’s relationship with the local Lord: in Barrie’s original she is the fiancée of Lord Rintoul; here she is his daughter."

"The timing of this production is remarkable, given the film’s emphasis on the use of the army to put down the unrest of the weavers, exploited by the manufacturers – a historic situation in Scotland’s industrial revolution: six strikers were shot by the military in the Calton Weavers’ Strike of 1787, among other comparable historic events. This was a peculiarly delicate subject in the U.S.A. of 1921, still quivering from the Red Scares of 1919-20, and with the “Blair Mountain War” – a confrontation between the army and Virginian coal-miners that cost some 20 lives – continuing with violence throughout the period of production and release of this film."

"There is no evidence of liberal sympathies on the part of the director Penrhyn Stanlaws, though his Scottish birth (in Dundee, 1877, as Stanley Adamson) may have influenced his choice of subject. He arrived in the United States in 1901, and paid his way through Princeton by working as an illustrator, before going to Paris to study art. Subsequently he enjoyed long success as an illustrator, his portraits of several generations of beautiful women figuring on innumerable magazine covers – notably the Saturday Evening Post from 1913 to 1935. His early models included Mabel Normand, Mae Murray, Florence La Badie, Marion Davies, Anna Q. Nilsson, and Alice Joyce. He believed that photographic modeling was better training for film acting than theatre work: he wrote that Normand “was fortunate that she didn’t have to unlearn stagecraft”, since she went directly from modeling to film."

""His career as a film director was brief: in 1921-22 he directed seven pictures for Paramount, four featuring Betty Compson, whom he styled as “pleasingly petite”. The film is visually handsome, fast-moving, and with interesting casting and performances. The Little Minister himself is played by George Hackathorne (1896-1940), a distinctive character actor, though hard to cast as a romantic lead. His career faded with the coming of sound, and his last, uncredited appearance was as a wounded soldier in Gone With the Wind." – DAVID ROBINSON

AA: This was my first acquaintance with this story by J.M. Barrie in any form. Betty Compson carries the movie in her double role of Lady Barbara who is also a wild young gypsy woman roaming in the village and in the woods. The comedy approach is successful and George Hackathorne is both amusing and convincing as the little minister who is not afraid to resist convention and who has the courage to stand up against violence and oppression. It is surprising to find themes of poverty and class struggle foregrounded in a Paramount production. J.M. Barrie's message of anti-racism and tolerance is sadly topical in today's Europe. A delightful discovery. The print is ok.

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