In a nustshell: Two very good Pickford
films, though one is marred by too much digital enhancement.
This Milestone release features two Mary Pickford movies on a single
disc: Heart O' the Hills (1919) and M'liss (1918).
Both of these films feature Mary as a back woods yokel with a lot of spunk
and a heart of gold. These are fun films, though Heart O' the
Hills has a rather inappropriate musical score and also suffers from
too much digital enhancement. It also has the distinction of being
the last movie that Mary Pickford would make for a studio that she didn't
own. She was filming this picture as she, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie
Chaplin, and director D. W. Griffith were forming their own motion picture
studio, United Artists.
Heart O' the Hills
Mavis (Mary Pickford) is a 12 year old girl who lives in the hills of
Kentucky. She and her mother Martha (Claire McDowell) live
in a shanty on the land that they farm, and ever since her father was killed
by an unknown assailant, things have been hard for the pair. Mavis
has vowed to get revenge on the man that killed her father, but without
any clues, all she can do is spend her time honing her shooting skills.
A local man, Jason Honeycutt (Alan Sears) starts courting Mavis' mother,
but Mavis doesn't like him much, she's sure that Honeycutt just wants their
land. Soon after Jason and Martha wed, a group of men led by Morton
Sanders (Henry Herbert) come up to the hills and start buying up land.
They know that there are rich coal deposits throughout the region, and
they manage to swindle a lot of the simple, honest folk who live in the
When Mavis discovers that her mother's land has been given over to Sanders
for a song, she informs the town folk of Sander's intentions. The
men of the area, along with Mavis, decide to take action. They dress
up in sheets and hoods to hide their identity (and end up looking like
the KKK) and tell Sanders to get out of town. When one of Sander's
men fires on the group someone shoots back, and Sanders ends up dead.
The rest of Sander's men still want to buy up more land, so they tell the
sherif that Mavis was the one who killed their boss. Mavis is arrested,
and put on trial for her life.
Heart O' the Hills is an interesting film in Pickford's canon
for a couple of reasons. First, it is one of her more violent roles.
Mary typically didn't partake in anything more violent than getting into
a scrap with a bully, but in this film she does more than that: she shoots
a man dead. She also isn't the loving child who dotes on her mother.
In one scene her angry parent is going to take a hickory switch to her
back side and Mary grabs the stick, breaks it over her knee, and tells
her mother that she has to treat her as an adult from now on. "Be
my dinner ready, Mammy?" she demands.
This film also gave Mary a little wider range of emotions to act with.
Instead of the usual (very toned down) sexual awakening of a young girl,
this also had Mary hunting her father's killer, being tried for murder,
and being abandoned by her mother. This gave Mary a chance to really
act, and with one or two over dramatic exceptions, she does an admirable
The film does have its flaws though. The biggest problem is that
they try to put too much action into a fairly short movie. The plot
is a little complicated, with several main plots all vying for attention.
The film starts out with Mavis looking for her father's killer. That
plot is ignored for a while as the focus shifts to the city folk who come
to swindle the hillbillies out of their valuable land, then switch to Mavis'
murder trial where her life hangs on the line. (They apparently didn't
have a problem trying a 12 year old girl as an adult, nor were they worried
that she didn't have an attorney.) Throughout all of these plots
Mavis starts to become attracted to boys, and has conflicting feelings
about that. This is just too much. The climax of the movie,
Mavis' trial, comes about 2/3 of the way through the film. Everything
after that seem anticlimactic.
Even with this movie being a little cramped plot wise, it was fun to
watch. Mary Pickford always brings an energy to all the roles she
plays that really enhances her films and makes it easy to overlook the
flaws. She gave just the right amount of spunk to Mavis to make the
The second feature on this disc is M'Liss, another film where
Mary plays a spunky young girl living in a rural setting. Based on
a story by Bret Harte, the movie had already been filmed once, in 1915,
and would be put to film twice again after this version; in 1922 as The
Girl Who Ran Wild, and then again in 1936 with Anne Shirley in the title
Melissa (Mary Pickford), or M'liss as everyone calls her, is a little
hellion. She lives with her father, 'Bummer' Smith (Theodore Roberts),
who is a drunk and pretty much leaves M'liss on her own. So she dresses
like a bandit and 'robs' the stagecoach with a slingshot, to the amusement
of the drivers, and generally does as she pleases.
M'liss doesn't go to school, but the new school master, Charles Grey
(the wonderful Thomas Meighan, who sadly is all but forgotten today) takes
an interest in her. As time passes they become good friends, and
M'liss gets a school girl crush on the ruggedly handsome teacher, going
so far as to start going to school "to be teached."
Things are looking up for M'liss until her father is found in their
cabin murdered. Charles is the main suspect, since he was in
the cabin shortly before the murder, and is promptly arrested and tried
for the crime. M'liss knows he's innocent, but how can a young girl
convince a jury of that?
This was another fun Pickford film. Mary manages to look charming
in nothing more than rags in this film, and her spirit and energy are quite
infectious, as always. Pickford has a huge amount of screen presence,
and whenever she's in front of the camera the movie just sparkles.
Though it is similar in plot to Heart O' the Hills, this movie
is much more upbeat. There is a lot more humor in this movie, most
of it coming from Mary. The scene where the local judge is talking
with the school children to see how their education is coming along is
a riot. When he asks M'liss who the first man was, she tells him
that is was Washington. "Wrong - 'Twere Adam." declares the judge.
"Oh of course" replies M'liss, "if you're speakin' of foreigners."
This isn't a great or important movie, but it is still a lot of fun
to watch. Pickford does her usual great job with her character, making
the audience feel for her when the only doll she's ever had gets harmed,
and laughing with her as she struggles in school. I actually enjoyed
this more than the headlining feature.
The stereo soundtrack for Heart O' the Hills, composed by Maria
Newman and preformed by a string quartet, was very clear and well performed,
but I didn't care for it. The music fit well in many places, such
as during the shin-dig, but much of the time it didn't. When the
locals are meeting in the woods, the only music is a rather tinny sounding
drum being beaten rather slowly which didn't fit the somber occasion.
In other places the music is intrusive, such as when the elder Jason is
introduced and they play a whimsical tune for no apparent reason.
During the trial scene, they chose to play a slide whistle every time someone
stood up, which distracted from the serious tone of the scene. Though
the musicians were talented and played well, I just disliked the music
they were playing.
M'liss has a soundtrack composed and preformed by Donald Sosin,
and Mr. Sosin does his usual fine job. The piano score fits the tone
of the of the movie, enhancing the emotions of the scenes without being
intrusive. A much nicer score.
The sepia toned image for Heart O' the Hills left a little to
be desired, though the quality of the print was pretty good. There
was some damage to the print which looked like it had been through a projector
several times. Mainly scratches and dirt, and the occasional torn
frame. This wasn't distracting though. The contrast was pretty
good, and level of detail was good.
The real problem was the overuse of digital effects to enhance the picture.
Because of this everyone is outlined in white, details in the background
are often way too bright, and there is an artificial grainy quality to
the movie. This really mars the picture. An average looking
image that would have been better without the digital adjustments, even
if the picture ended up being softer.
Close up of a frame from Heart
O' the Hills. Notice the white outline on the left side of the boy's
face and around the hat. His face also has a lot of grain and the
color is uneven.
M'liss looked much better. It looked like there was the
slightest touch of edge enhancement in a couple of scenes, but it was very
light and not distracting. The image for this feature was very clear
a just a little bit soft. Some of the fine details were a little
blurry, but only a tad. The contrast was good overall, though
in some scenes the highlights are washed out. There is a good amount
of detail too. A very fine looking film.
The only extras on this disc are a pair of still galleries, one from
This DVD makes a great double feature. These two movies go together
very well, and it was nice to see them both on one disc. I
actually enjoyed M'liss a bit more than Heart O' the Hills, though
both were good. Heart... just had a little too much plot crammed
into it, but it was still fun. The real complaint I have with this
disc is the image quality for Heart O' the Hills. The image
had a significant amount of digital enhancement preformed on it, and the
artifacts from those processes marred the picture. The image isn't
unwatchable, but the artifacts are very noticeable, especially on a large
monitor. The musical score that accompanies the movie was also not
very good, with some comical sounds being used in serious parts and being
generally intrusive. Even with these flaws, I think this disc is
worth picking up. The two movies are enjoyable and will stand up
to repeated viewings. Recommended.