Mary Pickford, near the end of her life, thought that time had made her movies obsolete, and that no one would be interested in seeing them any more. She wanted them all burned. Luckily cooler minds persuaded her not to do this, and future generations are able to enjoy her movies. Milestone has scheduled the release of several Pickford movies during 2005, and the first one in this series is the delightful Little Lord Fauntleroy.
Cedric lives in the slums of New York with his mother 'Dearest.' (Mary Pickford plays both roles.) The two don't have a lot of money, but they are able to get by and for the most part are happy. Young Cedric is in for a shock though when a lawyer from England arrives at his home. He discovers that his long dead father was actually the disowned son of a British Earl. With the death of the Earl's other son, the title and estates of the Earl of Dorincourt will one day pass to Cedric. The Earl wants the boy to come to England and live with him so that he can have the education and upbringing that suits a person of his station. Cedric and his mother agree, and set sail.
Once they arrive, Dearest finds out that the Earl still holds her in disdain, feeling that she is the hussy who led his son astray with her feminine wiles. Dearest is to live in the gate house, while Cedric, now Lord Fauntleroy, lives in the castle with the Earl. The Earl is a sour old man in bad health and is never in a good mood, but with Cedric's arrival at the castle, the household starts to change. Lord Fauntleroy's good humor and cheerful disposition are infectious and he soon has the staff, and even the Earl himself, looking at the bright side of life. The Earl doesn't realize how much the little Lord means to him until another claimant to the title comes forward and he discovers that young Cedric will have to leave.
This is a film that Pickford made at the height of her career, and is fairly typical of her pictures. A light comedy, with some dramatic overtones, the film is entertaining and fun. It is quite a joy to watch young Cedric worm his way into the stodgy old British aristocrat's heart, and though there isn't much slapstick, and only a few jokes per se, the movie has a cheerful and happy tone to it. While there are a couple of sentimental scenes in the film, it never becomes sappy of maudlin, like the best of Disney's live action films.
Pickford tries very hard to play the part of a young lad, but she just doesn't quite pull it off. She looks very feminine even in men's clothing. The rather foppish outfits that Lord Fauntleroy wears, black velvet suits with lace, do nothing to present a manly image. She tries a little too hard to walk like a boy, apeing her husband's (Douglas Fairbanks) stance and swagger most of the time. She usually stands with her feet planted firmly apart and with her knees slightly bent, and it just looks awkward.
Her unnatural stance is quite curious, since the rest of the time her acting is very natural and realistic. Pickford didn't go in for the overly dramatic style acting of that was in vouge at the time. She doesn't put the back of her hand to her forehead to show distress, she does it with her face and the stance of her body. In this picture, even though she doesn't look like a male, she does a great job of creating a happy and loveable character. She has a lot of screen presence, and she easily outshines the other actors who are on screen.
Being one of the founders of United Artists, Pickford was the most important woman in Hollywood at the time she made this film. This picture had a large budget and all of the money shows up on the screen. The movie is filled with lavishly appointed sets that create the feeling of British aristocracy, and some very fancy camera work. Charles Rosher, who would end up filming well over a hundred movies during his career including Sunrise and Showboat, did a magnificent job with the split screen work in the film. He was able to make it appear as if Dearest and Cedric (both played by Pickford) were in the same room together with split screen effects. Though that is a fairly common technique, he was able to take the effect to new heights. This is even more amazing when you realize that all this was done in the camera. They didn't superimpose the images, just blocked off part of the lens, filmed Mary in one role, rewound the film, and filmed her in the other. Using this he technique he was able to have Cedric start out one side of his mother and then walk behind her to the other side. Cedric even kisses his mother in an impressive shot that took 15 hours to film, even though it lasts only 3 seconds.
If you've never seen a Mary Pickford film before, this would be a great one to start with. The story is fun, the sets are lavish, and Pickford does an outstanding job as the joyful waif who charms a crotchety old man. A fun film that still seems fresh today.
The orchestral music, composed by Nigel Holton and preformed by the Martinu Philharmonic of the Czech Republic, is presented in a two channel mono mix is clear and clean. This contemporary score is a little heavy on the drama in parts, but is very pleasing otherwise. There are no audio defects worth mentioning.
This DVD has been mastered from a 35 mm print from the Mary Pickford Collection and the full frame image is excellent. The picture is clear and there is a good amount of detail. The print did have some light scratches, and there were occasional frames missing, but this wasn't distracting. The contrast was adequate, but not outstanding. The details were washed out of some of the highlights, but this was the exception rather than the rule. The image did have a bit of grain to it, but only a bit.
The framing is cropped a little close on the right side of the screen, with some of the intertitle cards having the text on that side go right up to the edge of the screen, but this isn't noticeable in the film itself. Overall Milestone has done a wonderful job with the restoration and transfer of this DVD.
This disc also includes a two-minute reel of production photos and advertising for the movie, a 3½-minute reel of Mary Pickford photos and memorabilia, and Milestone's Press Kit for the movie's DVD release in .pdf format.
Little Lord Fauntleroy is just a fun movie. Mary Pickford's Cedric is an infectious character who brightens up the screen whenever he (she) is on it. Though Pickford doesn't make a convincing boy you soon get over that and just enjoy the film. The 35mm print that was used is very good, with some minor scratching and dirt, but still impressive for a film that is nearly 85 years old. Milestone has done another fantastic job with this disc. Highly Recommended.