Film Review by Dean Duncan May 29, 2015

Mary Pickford’s last go-round as a juvenile lead (she was thirty-four years old when she produced and starred in this project) is simultaneously one of the most commercially calculated and one of the most beautiful of late silent films. It’s half gothic melodrama, half Sunday-School sermon, pulling out the good-guy/bad-guy stops at the same time that it unapologetically stops the story dead to point its precepts. The subject is God’s concern for the least sparrow’s fall, and the story displays some of the same fervour and political naiveté as its obvious ancestor, Oliver Twist. But if we are left a little bit skeptical about this film’s solution to social ills—the intervention of individual rich people eliminates poverty and cruelty, especially if the viewer is moved to similar action—then its sincerity, and the skill with which it presents its case, is beyond question.

As per usual in a Pickford movie, humour and sentiment are kept in exquisite (if slightly perilous) balance. Broad comedy gives way gradually to moments of real poetry and tenderness; viewers will be shocked by the unapologetic, unironic tone of an actual, very famous divine visitation, and devastated by its narrative placing and emotional power. As for Pickford herself, she is likely to provide the film’s greatest revelation. Times have changed, and her performance style initially strikes some moderns as being somewhat mannered. But as with her business associate Charlie Chaplin, this is the mannerism of an archetype. It was more than marketing that made this woman into one of the most beloved figures of her age. Here are faith, courage, and virtue, and welcome cinematic proof that God will succour His little ones.

It should be pointed out that, as per usual with religious entertainment, some of those details remain to be worked out!