10 October 2008 | drednm
Pickford the War Hero
When the US entered World War I, the government forced Hollywood to churn out propaganda films. THE LITTLE American is probably the best of the lot because it stars Mary Pickford.
Pickford plays a young woman torn between two men: Jack Holt (German) and Raymond Hatton (French), but her decision is delayed because of the war as both men enlist.
When the ship Pickford is sailing on is sunk by the Germans (think Lusitania) because it is carrying munitions, Pickford has a great scene as she stands on the lifeboat and yells at the German commander. Later on, of course, she runs into both Holt and Hatton when she is being held as a war prisoner at a château.
Director Cecil B. DeMille provides one truly great scene in this film as Pickford and Holt are wandering through a bombed-out village. They pass a destroyed church of which only one wall remains standing. Against the wall is a very large crucifix. As they stand and watch, the wall collapses but the Jesus figure remains, suspended in mid air. It's a very surreal moment in a film that is otherwise very straightforward and un-artsy.
Pickford is, as always, a pleasure to watch. She was always a very natural actress who avoided the arm-waving histrionics many other actors of the day used. She's also very very pretty. Holt is very good here in a leading-man role. Hatton is OK. Among the list of name actors in "extra" parts are Wallace Beery, Ramon Novarro, Colleen Moore, Ben Alexander, Hobart Bosworth, Norman Kerry, Walter Long, James Neill, and Edythe Chapman.
Not a great film, but interesting to see US propaganda at work.