2 September 2008 | Steffi_P
"I stopped being neutral and became a human being!"
With the US having recently entered the First World War, the country's best known and most popular director teamed with its most beloved actress to fire a cinematic salvo in this flag-waving adventure.
In style this is something of a departure for DeMille. He more or less abandons his use of long takes, painterly shot compositions and predominantly visual narrative, in favour of rapid editing and lots of expository intertitles. Of course this is purely pragmatic it keeps the story moving along quickly and injects some excitement and tension into what is after all a propaganda piece. The heavier than usual use of intertitles also leaves no ambiguity about plot or character intention. Some of these editing patterns are quite effective for example, the crosscutting used when the ocean liner is torpedoed. However fans of DeMille's early silents will probably find themselves missing the more considered approach they will be familiar with. This is certainly one of his least graceful films.
The fact that The Little American is more action-centred means it is less acting centred there is not the same concentration on performance that you normally get with DeMille. For this reason this is not a particularly memorable role for Mary Pickford, and to be fair almost any actress could have played the part equally well. However the casting of Pickford would have been symbolic and psychologically effective at the time. Although the press had not yet labelled her America's sweetheart, she certainly occupied that position. Therefore DeMille did not have to go out of his way to endear the audience to the character of Angela Moore, because they had already formed an emotional attachment to Mary Pickford.
Regardless of how effective this picture was in its day it is really quite a mediocre effort when taken out of context. One interesting point though the one scene in The Little American that really looks like the typical DeMille is the one in which Pickford and Holt take refuge in a ruined church below the effigy of Christ on the cross. Throughout the picture the stars and stripes is treated with the same reverence and significance DeMille might give to a crucifix. This picture is another small step towards the iconic imagery and preachiness that would characterise his work from the twenties onwards.