(director: Marshall A. Neilan; screenwriters: Agnes Johnson/from a book by Jean Webster; cinematographer: Charles Rosher; editor: Edward M. McDermott; cast: Mary Pickford (Judy Abbott), Milla Davenport (Miss Lippett), Percy Haswell (Miss Pritchard), Fay Lemport (Angelina Wyckoff), Mahlon Hamilton (Jarvis Pendleton), Lillian Langdon (Mrs. Pendleton), Betty Bouton (Julia Pendleton), Audrey Chapman (Sallie McBride), Marshall A. Neilan (Jimmie McBride), Carrie Clark Ward (Mrs. Semple); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mary Pickford; Milestone; 1919-silent)
“The silent film is of value only for historic purposes, as it doesn’t carry well over to modern times.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This heart-tugging melodrama is the first film version of the play by Jean Webster. It’s directed by Marshall A. Neilan (“Bits of Life”/”Stranger’s Banquet”/”Wild Oats Lane”) who also has a supporting role as a suitor, and it’s produced and stars the popular silent star Mary Pickford. It was Pickford’s first independently made film, where First National gave her final editing cut and half the profits. The film was a big box office success and Pickford never returned to Paramount, instead forming with her husband Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith their own production company called United Artists—allowing them to get all the profits. The film was remade in 1931 with Janet Gaynor and Warner Baxter and in 1955 with Leslie Caron and Fred Astaire.
The silent film is of value only for historic purposes, as it doesn’t carry well over to modern times.
Mrs. Lippett (Milla Davenport) is the despotic matron at the John Grier Home in Massachusetts, an orphanage where children are made to work as the founder made his fortune through exploiting convict labor and uses that as a model. When a policeman finds a baby in a trash can, he places her in the home and Mrs. Lippett names her Judy Abbott (Mary Pickford, was 26 at the time of the film). The ever-optimistic, spunky and guileless Judy grows up in the abusive orphanage and when the 12-year-old is the oldest child there, we see her caring for the younger ones with compassion, acting out as a prankster and leading a food strike against the daily serving of prunes.
On one “Blue Wednesday,” at a time when the trustees visit, the playful Judy steals the doll of one of the rich trustee’s spoiled daughters, Angelina (Fay Lemport), after she refuses to loan the doll so a sick orphan child calling for her mamma can have someone to temporarily love and is punished by Mrs. Lippett who places her finger on the hot stove. Kind-hearted trustee Miss Pritchard (Percy Haswell) feels sorry for the orphan and when the new wealthy trustee visits, she talks him into giving Judy a college scholarship to an elite university. He does so anonymously and on the condition that they don’t meet, whereby she regularly writes him letters addressed to John Smith on her progress. Since on the day of his visit she only saw in the shadows on the wall his long legs, she dubbed him Daddy-Long-Legs.
In college Judy rooms with Mayflower descendent Julia Pendleton (Betty Bouton) and the daughter of a millionaire Sallie McBride (Audrey Chapman). During her sophomore year she meets Sallie’s brother Jimmie (Marshall A. Neilan), a Princeton freshman, and Jarvis Pendleton (Mahlon Hamilton), the wealthy uncle of Julia. Judy rejects Jimmie because he’s too young for her, but falls in love with the suave but much older Jarvis. But she rejects him, afraid to tell him of her orphanage background, though she writes her benefactor telling him she fell in love with someone else.
Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.
Despiteher bad start in life, Judy develops into a published writer and graduates with honors. She even sends her benefactor money to repay him for his kindness. When he never responds to her letter about falling in love with Jarvis she finally visits his farm mansion and discovers that her Daddy-Long-Legs is Jarvis, and they joyfully embrace.
REVIEWED ON 1/17/2009 GRADE: C