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AMARILLY OF CLOTHESLINE ALLEY(director: Marshall Neilan; screenwriters: Belle K. Maniates (novel)/Frances Marion; cinematographer: Walter Stradling; cast: Mary Pickford (Amarilly Jenkins), Norman Kerry (Gordon Phillips), William Scott (Terry McGowan), Kate Price (Mrs. Jenkins), Ida Waterman (Mrs. Stuyvesant Phillips), Tom Wilson (Bosco McCarty); Runtime: 67; Artcraft Films; 1918-silent)

“The film should be of special interest to Mary Pickford fans.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A lightweight melodrama set in New York City, at the early part of the 20th century. Mary Pickford is Amarilly, the daughter of a widowed scrub-woman. Amarilly takes home a High Society man about town, the handsome sculptor Gordon Phillips (Norman Kerry), after he got into a barroom brawl in the place where she works as a cigarette girl — the notorious Cyclone Café. It’s a place where prostitutes and riff-raff hang-out. Amarilly has her mom (Kate Price) wash the artist; mom also solicits him for a job to let her launder his shirts. When Amarilly goes to his studio to pick up the shirts, a romance blossoms.

Pickford plays a respectable Irish working girl proud of her hard-working mom and her five roughhouse brothers, who love to horse around and keep their small Lower East Side apartment hopping with activity.

Pickford has been going steady with the dependable bartender at the café, Terry McGowan (Scott), for the past three years, and the running gag is that she hasn’t kissed him once good-night. Terry gets jealous when he sees her with Gordon and breaks off their engagement. Pickford then goes to work as a scrub-woman in Gordon’s studio, which is located in his aunt’s mansion. The aunt is a Park Ave., snobbish, blue-blood, named Mrs. Phillips (Waterman), who has her social calendar filled with doing charity events, which she does because of selfish reasons. Reluctantly, the aunt lets Pickford stay in a spare room when Gordon tells her that her neighborhood is under quarantine because of an outbreak of scarlet fever. The aunt decides to take this opportunity to conduct an interesting social experiment on Amarilly, as she tries to teach the slum child manners and culture to exist in High Society. But she has a change of mind about this, when she sees her nephew has fallen in love with this upstart.

Mrs. Phillips now decides to ridicule Pickford and her uneducated family by inviting all of them to the mansion for tea with her society crowd. The humiliation occurs and Pickford remains loyal to mom, while Gordon apologizes to her for what her aunt did–but as Pickford says, you can’t mix ice cream and pickles.

Predictably Pickford gets back together with nice guy Terry and they get married, and immediately start raising a family. She has seen how the other half lives and is as happy as a clam to be back with her own kind. The couple are not even phased by the violence in their neighborhood, as in a freakish accident Terry is shot…but, after all, it’s still “Home Sweet, Home.”

The old-fashioned values displayed give the film a dated look, and all the manipulative situations prevent this film from being viewed as anything but a star vehicle. The film had a few heartwarming moments: mom dancing an Irish jig; Terry taking his date Pickford home and then — climbing up the rickety steps of the tenement and looking chagrined as he was thwarted from kissing her; and, there was Pickford toying with all the men in her life, not a bit envious of her so-called betters, proud of her poor heritage…even quoting, when mom is humiliated by Gordon’s aunt, what might go for an Irish saying: “It will all come out in the wash.”

The film should be of special interest to Mary Pickford fans and to those who want to see why she was considered “America’s Sweetheart.” It might be interesting to note that Pickford was producing her own films at the time and chose to work with her favorite director Marshall Neilan; but, he could prove difficult at times because of his drinking problem, where he would come late to work and delay the production. But he was a charmer, who could give Pickford some alibi and soon get back on her good side.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”