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Family Secret, The
Undercrank Productions // Unrated
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
When Shirley Temple was just a twinkle in her father's eye, there was another child star that was filling the seats in movie theaters across the country: Baby Peggy. Though most of her movies are lost today, the few that survive make it easy to see why she was so popular back in the day. The very young lady had an incredible amount of screen presence and it's hard not to look at her when she's on the screen. Undercrank Productions has just released one of the features she made at Universal (under their prestige "Universal Jewel" label no less) The Family Secret, and the disc includes some really fun extras that make it quite a package.
Simon Selfridge is a rich and grumpy man who is discouraging his daughter, Gladys, from seeing her boyfriend Gary. Simon is sure that Gary is just after his fortune, and he has no idea that Gladys has already married the young clerk and that the newlyweds meet clandestinely to share some time together. When old man Selfridge catches the two looking longingly into each other eyes, he hatches a plan: if he forbids the pair to meet, that will just strengthen their love so instead he sends Gladys off for a year.
When the young lady returns, she has a surprise: her infant daughter Peggy. Simon blows a gasket when he finds out and banishes Gladys to her room are refuses to let Gary anywhere near the girl. That evening however, Gary sneaks into the house to see his wife and daughter, but when a cop sees the open window and investigates, Simon discovers Gary, tears him out of Gladys' arms, and has him arrested for breaking and entering. Gary gets three and a half years in prison for the crime.
Flash forward a bit. Gary gets released from prison but without a job or prospects, he's basically homeless and spends his days wandering the streets. Gladys is equally miserable. She's been told that Gary left her and went away, and spends her days laying on a day bed, attended to by a nurse. Peggy however, has grown into an adorable tyke, and even though her nanny and her mother's nurse (and her grandfather and aunt...) dislike her and think she's just a nuisance, she becomes friends with the black maid and butler and has a very cheerful outlook. But can a precious and precocious four-year-old warm the heart of her grandfather, cure her mother's chronic depression, and reunite his parents? If you can't guess the answer to that one, you haven't seen enough movies.
While there's a lot to like in this film, the plot is a mess. The beginning is plodding and melodramatic, and even though this is a Baby Peggy vehicle, she doesn't make her appearance until 20 minutes into the hour-long feature. Once she does make her appearance the film picks up quite a bit. All of her scenes are very good, and she livens up the movie and makes it light and enjoyable. The scene where she washes a stray dog in the bathtub if both funny and touching, and her adventures with some lower income children she sees from here window is worth the price of admission.
Baby Peggy has more than a little in common with Shirley Temple. They both exude cuteness and if this movie would have been made a decade later it would be easy to see Temple in the lead role. While the movie is a bit slow at the beginning and requires the audience to suspend their disbelief a bit more than your average film, it's still a nice picture and well worth checking out because of its very young star.
For more information on Baby Peggy read my review of Milestone's release of Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room, a documentary on the star.
I watched a screener disc that should be very similar to the final product. I'll update this review when I am able to view the retail product.
This film has been restored by the Library of Congress from 35mm and 16mm elements are looks very good. There is only so much that can be done, especially with 16 mm, but the results are generally very pleasing. There is a bit of grain and the print does have some scratches are dirt, but the contrast is good and the detail is fine. You won't be disappointed with this disc.
Ben Model both wrote and performed the new organ score for the film and extras. I really enjoyed his work and the music accented the action on the screen nicely. The end of Family Secret, taking place in a summer home at night, worked especially well. Being a recent recording, the quality is excellent. No complaints here.
This collection has some outstanding bonus material. There are two Baby Peggy shorts making their home video debut: Circus Clowns (1922) and Miles of Smiles (1923). These were both made by Century Films, where she worked before signing with Universal, and they are really good. I actually enjoyed them more than the feature. They show Baby Peggy in her element and it's easy to see why one of the major studios wanted to sign her.
In addition there are two rare silent newsreels that show the small star at home relaxing. The second one even features her mother and sister. These were great to see, and while they're staged it is nice to see her in a more natural setting.
While the plot of this film was a little contrived, Baby Peggy brings the movie to life and really makes it enjoyable. In addition, the extras are a great bonus and make this a very attractive package. This gets a very strong recommendation.