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The Little American 1917
Description: A young American has her ship torpedoed by a German U-boat but makes it back to her ancestral home in France, where she witnesses German brutality firsthand.
Released: 12 Jul 1917 Director: Cecil B. DeMille, Joseph Levering Writers: Jeanie Macpherson (by) Actors: Mary Pickford, Jack Holt, Raymond Hatton, Hobart Bosworth Genres: Drama, Romance, War
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The Little American Reviews:

When the US entered Globe Fight I, the government forced Hollywood to churn out propaganda films. THE LITTLE American is probably the greatest of the lot because it stars Mary Pickford.Pickford plays a young girl torn between two men: Jack Holt (German) and Raymond Hatton (French), but her decision is delayed because of the fight as both boys enlist.When the ship Pickford is sailing on is sunk by the Germans (think Lusitania) because it is carrying munitions, Pickford has a nice stage as she stands on the lifeboat and yells at the German commander. Soon on, of course, she runs into both Holt and Hatton when she is being held as a fight prisoner at a château.Director Cecil B. DeMille provides one truly nice stage in this movie as Pickford and Holt are wandering through a bombed-out village. They pass a destroyed church of which only one wall remains standing. Vs the wall is a very huge crucifix. As they stand and watch, the wall collapses but the Jesus figure remains, suspended in mid air. It's a very surreal moment in a movie that is otherwise very straightforward and un-artsy.Pickford is, as always, a pleasure to watch. She was everytime a very natural actress who avoided the arm-waving histrionics many another actors of the day used. She's also very very pretty. Holt is very nice here in a leading-man role. Hatton is OK. Among the list of name actors in "extra" parts are Wallace Beery, Ramon Novarro, Colleen Moore, Ben Alexander, Hobart Bosworth, Norman Kerry, Walter Long, James Neill, and Edythe Chapman.Not a nice film, but interesting to see US propaganda at work.


In its own time, this effective and often compelling wartime melodrama used the talents of Mary Pickford and a young Cecil B. DeMille in help of the Allies in the first globe war. It works well in itself, and it might be even more worthwhile now, for a generation that can view the happenings of that era more impartially, in order to draw some broader lessons from it.Pickford plays Angela, "The Tiny American", a young girl courted by a German and a Frenchman who are both living in America. This familiar setup later becomes much more serious when the fight breaks out, and the two young boys return to Europe and the battlefield, with Pickford's hero later joining them in the midst of the turmoil and terror of the conflict. The ensuing storyline occasionally has some points in common with the Valentino/Rex Ingram classic "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse", though with a generally more hopeful tone.The first half has a particularly perfect sequence that depicts a submarine attacking a passenger liner. It works very well both dramatically and thematically. In particular, the light and motion of the sub's searchlight darting erratically through the darkness, so that its team can survey the effects of their attack, produces a chilling result that is probably more effective than any amount of screaming should have been. The sequence works convincingly in portraying the barbarous, inhuman nature of attacks on civilian targets, and it also demonstrates the emptiness of the excuses used to justify them.That is probably the strongest sequence, but the main storyline in the château also has some worthwhile material. The German troops are largely portrayed as subhuman, but this is balanced to a huge degree by the hero of Karl (Jack Holt) and his inner struggle between his sense of duty and his sense of justice. Holt and Pickford work well together, and Raymond Hatton, though not getting as much screen time, also makes nice test of his opportunities.With the delicious Pickford as the star, and DeMille already showing his ability to movie set pieces effectively, this gotta have been very persuasive in its original purpose of strengthening help for the Allied cause. But actually it can serve a different, and possibly more important, purpose. The harrowing experiences of Angela and the another characters are effective in demonstrating how quickly the fabric of human society can tear apart when military win becomes all-important. While less ambitious and less well-known than the best-known of the classic films that came out of the first globe war, "The Tiny American" works well, and it is well worth the time to watch.


Canadian-born Mary Pickford played the game role in this fight melodrama under the direction of Cecil B. DeMille. They worked together on only two projects, and although Miss Pickford spoke of DeMille with respect in soon years, she did not recall their collaboration or the resulting movies with much fondness. I don't know why Mary didn't like working with DeMille, but I would hazard a guess it was because they were both larger-than-life personalities with egos to match, and very specific concepts about how to create movies. Certainly the movies they made together detail the top production values we expect from them both, based on the career standards every would maintain, including first-rate cinematography and art design, Hollywood's greatest hero actors in colourful helping roles, etc.I don't know why Mary didn't like this particular film, either, but I can hazard a second guess. The Tiny American was made just after the U.S. entered the Nice War, during the first flush of near-hysterical nationalist fervor that swept the nation, and it reflects that mood in methods that don't wear well in retrospect. This film was designed to be propaganda of the red meat variety, meant to whip up feelings of righteous outrage. Here there is no room for political background, perspective, or dispassionate consideration of another points of view; in short, no room for reason. The Germans are merciless brutes, period. All they understand is force, period. Perhaps, with the passage of time, Miss Pickford wasn't comfortable with this absolutism, or with the super-charged passion of the storytelling on display here. Today we can look back at this movie and its siblings (such as D. W. Griffith's Hearts of the World) with historical curiosity and the distance afforded by hindsight, but, despite the passage of some ninety years, many viewers will search these films painful to watch today, not only because of the ugly experiences depicted or the ugly feelings they stir, but because of our awareness of the very true impact this sort of propaganda had on contemporary viewers. Audiences of 1917 cheered for Mary and the Allied troops, gasped at German atrocities, and cursed those dirty Huns. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine that some young boys who saw this movie may have found in it the inspiration to enlist, and who knows what happened to them after that. It's no wonder the star had tiny affection for this project.The movie says the storyline of a young American girl called Angela Moore -- born on the Fourth of July, no less -- who is courted by a Frenchman and a German, although she is decidedly more fond of her German suitor, Karl. When fight breaks out her suitors, naturally, wind up on opposite sides of the conflict. Meanwhile Angela attempts to sail to France at the invitation of her invalid aunt, but her ship (here named the "Veritania") is torpedoed by a German submarine and she narrowly escapes with her life. This harrowing sequence was obviously based on the destruction of the Lusitania less than two years earlier, and surely gotta have hit a raw nerve in many viewers when the movie was first released. The German sub commander and his crew, surfacing to observe their handiwork, flash searchlights on the sinking ship and look on coldly as Angela and her fellow passengers tumble off the tilted deck and plummet into the water, making no effort to assist.Angela reaches shore and finds her method to her aunt's château, but discovers that the old lady has died and that the house and its grounds are at the center of a pitched war for zone between the French and the Germans. Perhaps it goes without telling that she encounters both of her former suitors under very various circumstances and is torn between them, although her political sympathies are totally with the Allied cause. Angela allows the French to turn her house into a makeshift hospital. Despite the danger she remains on the stage when the château is overrun and commandeered by the Germans. They regard her as tiny more than a galley servant, and in one painful stage she is compelled to kneel before a German general and pull off his muddy boots. (But Angela gets off simple next to the household staff of chambermaids, who are gang raped; an happening that mercifully occurs off-camera.) Angela is nothing if not determined, however, and she risks her life to send surreptitious messages to the French. For awhile it appears that her onetime lover Karl has turned into a beast no better than his comrades, drunkenly attacking Angela in a darkened room before he recognizes her. Ultimately, however, at Angela's behest, he denounces the Kaiser's cause, defies his commanding officers, and throws in his lot with the Allies. After more suspenseful journeys the duo escape together, and when Karl is captured by French troops, Angela is able to receive him a reprieve.Not so surprisingly, the film's original ending upset contemporary audiences. After such graphic demonstrations of German depravity it didn't seem right that Mary would wind up with a German lover, even a "reformed" one. An alternate ending was filmed in which she winds up with the Frenchman instead, but it appears that this footage has not survived.The Tiny American is a fascinating record of a grim chapter in globe history, but it's a hard viewing experience. I'm a silent movie buff and historically-minded, and yet I felt queasy and depressed by the time it was over. I couldn't support but recall that this sort of incendiary propaganda was so prevalent during the Nice Fight that it caused Americans to be skeptical twenty years soon when stories of Nazi atrocities began to reach these shores. DeMille, Pickford, Griffith, and their Hollywood colleagues harnessed the cinema in the service of militant nationalism, and the techniques they pioneered have been refined into ever-more sophisticated forms ever since. Not a satisfied thought, is it?



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