A Four-Year Old Hero

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 6, 2015

This is a very important film, especially with regard to kid subjects, and attitudes toward children. It looks forward to a film like D.W. Griffith’s The Sunbeam, without being at all subordinate or inferior to the later production. In fact, though DWG will frame a bit more craftily, though he’ll incorporate props in a really masterful way and direct his actors most subtly, Guy’s film is probably more progressive and thorough. And of course we’re grateful to have them both.

The thing is that the Sunbeam is a conceit, or an abstraction. She embodies prevalent perceptions, which also correspond with profound realities. Children are innocent and pure. They are also, always, vulnerable. This combination both reproves and saves the adult, who is shown his or her failings, and then provided with a mandate of care, or a means to overcome self-absorption and even adult-sized sinfulness. Very good. But there is a deep sentimentality in this, not so much untrue as incomplete. And it’s not only that you have to add childish to childlike in order to paint a thorough picture. Just as importantly, you have to consider the fact that kids have inner lives, and real perceptions, and, most importantly, abilities!

Guy’s film has bourgeois interior bookends, beginning and ending with comfortable, prosperous surroundings, parents, child and, very significantly, a servant. This latter personage will be to blame for, or will be blamed for losing the child. There’s some ideology lurking here, vis-à-vis the working class. More positive is an ideological assertion about kids. The servant may have lost her, sort of, but look how this little one thrives while she’s away! Not only is she a paragon of virtue, but that virtue is expressed by the fact that she is also a paragon of resourcefulness, which is a virtue in itself.

We see this idea developed in the film’s three episodes. “Apaches!” Our four-year-old hero foils this mugging by tying her jump rope across a gateway. The perpetrators trip and stay tripped while the child fetches the policemen. If that’s a bit implausible, then we can still enjoy the completely plausible, as-per-usual evocative exteriors. (As usual, these look so much more dynamic and dramatic than the theatrical interior sets. Also, we should take comfort in the fact that this kid is a really good skipper, or in the extras who weren’t actually asked to be in the film who stand around looking slightly discomfited and extremely authentic.)

“Poor blind man!” This guy’s peril is also contrived, but the fresh thing is that the child intervenes without him knowing it, by manipulating this hydraulic, multi-directional bridge. We end, of course, with some “drunkards in danger.” Straining, or comical? Either way, this last episode, like the one before it, is really nicely framed. Leisurely z axis, interrupted by a kind of threatening y.

The housemaid wakes up and finds the child gone. At the same time the child goes to the police. As with the film’s opening, notice these tender caresses. That’s not acting, and it has tremendous, multiple evidentiary value. Having been escorted back home, our little moppet humourously twists the culprit’s ear. A bit of a wink, in other words—another thing that DWG wasn’t always so good at. Mlle. Guy!