My Best Girl

Mary Pickford's films aren't often seen nowadays, which is a pity: she was the most famous female film star of the 1920s - not only a fine actress, but also a shrewd film producer. Her films included Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917), Pollyanna (1920) and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921) (in which she played both the boy and his mother): she could present believable characters while keeping the sentimentality well under control, and was a fine comedienne.

Her last silent film, My Best Girl (1927) was shown at the National Film Theatre yesterday evening: a light romantic comedy, directed by Sam Taylor, in which she stars with Charles Rogers (looking remarkably like a young John Cusack). Coming near the very end of the silent era, the lightweight story is told with considerable skill, mixing comedy and emotion. Though played for laughs, all the characters are believeable, and it's the sort of film that set the standard for many similar comedies right down to Sleepless in Seattle.

Maggie (Pickford) works in the packing department of a large five-and-dime store. The boss's son, Joe (Rogers) works anonymously with her to learn his trade: in what is now called a 'meeting cute' situation they get on each other's nerves to begin with but soon become attracted - despite his family's having engaged him to a snooty rich girl. One evening, believing his family to be out, he takes her to his home for dinner (pretending to be an ordinary employee who is gate-crashing). She is out of her depth - in one nicely observed gag she begins by wiping the cutlery (best silver) on her napkin. The arrival of his family and the fiancee naturally upsets her, and of course further complications ensue: though needless to say there is an eventual happy ending.

All the supporting cast are good - it's particularly nice to see a restrained performance from Mack Swain (the huge heavy in many Chaplin films) as a night court judge, and the romantic interest is well balanced by gags which never tip over into broad slapstick.

The film was shown as part of a season mounted by the 'Birds Eye View Film Festival', celebrating women in films: very commendable - except that the organisers had been inspired to commission the Elysian String Quartet to provide the accompaniment. The resultant plinks, plonks and scrapings were most unsuitable to the film and extremely distracting: to be fair, the rest of the audience seemed to think it was very clever, but for me it's the worst accompaniment to a silent film since Georgio Moroder insulted Metropolis with a rock score. I wish they'd stuck to an experienced pianist like Neil Brand.

It's a shame, because this very rarely shown film is delightful. Two years later sound came in: she made only a handful of sound films and retired - one of many casualties of an inability to adapt to the new medium. My Best Girl is a fitting final tribute to Pickford's charm and skill.

Posted: Sat - March 8, 2008 at 10:34 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM