SALLY OF THE SAWDUST (director: D.W. Griffith; screenwriters: from the play Poppy by Dorothy Donnelly/Forrest Halsey; cinematographers: Harry Fischbeck/Harold S. Sintzenich; editor: James Smith; cast: W.C. Fields (Prof. Eustace McGargle), Carol Dempster (Sally), Alfred Lunt (Peyton Lennox), Effie Shannon (Mrs. Foster), Erville Alderson (Judge Henry L. Foster), Glenn Anders (Leon, the Acrobat), Roy Applegate (Detective); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: D.W. Griffith; Image Entertainment; 1925-silent)
“Other than it being the pic that propelled W.C. Fields’s movie career and was a rare comedy directed by the austere Griffith, this film would have been long forgotten.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This sentimental minor silent comedy gave W.C. Fields his first starring role in his third pic and one could see him working on routines that would later become more polished as his trademarks and make him a legendary comedian (his juggling routines, his antics as a bumbler and his kicking the dog bit). Noted innovative, moralistic and humorless pioneer filmmaker D.W. Griffith (“America”/”The Birth of a Nation”/”True Heart Susie”) shot it in tint during his later period when he was in decline artistically, though he still has enough mustard on this dog to make it bark at times. It’s based on the play Poppy by Dorothy Donnelly and written by Forrest Halsey (in a play Fields starred in on Broadway). It was remade in 1936 under the play’s title and also starred W.C. Fields.
Prof. Eustace McGargle (W.C. Fields) is a circus juggler and confidence man who becomes the guardian of a toddler named Sally (Carol Dempster) when her widowed circus mom suddenly dies in a circus tent. McGargle writes to her society parents, the Fosters, who dwell in the affluent Green Meadow, Connecticut. They rejected their daughter when she married beneath her station against their wishes to a showbiz performer. Only McGargle fails to tell them about her child. The girl’s grandfather Henry (Erville Alderson) is a respected and stern judge.
After Sally grows up raised in a loving way by McGargle as a pretty tomboy, not knowing her real parentage, and is taught all his con tricks, they move to Green Meadow when the circus that employs him gets stranded near there and he hires on with a local carnival. There the odd duo draw the wrath of her stuffy grandfather, who detests both con artists and theater people, when she attracts the romantic interest of a slumming Peyton Lennox (Alfred Lunt), scion of a leading social clan. When the good society folks accuse Sally of playing three-card Monte as a swindle, the judge is about to sentence Sally to jail time until he learns that she’s his granddaughter and then the Fosters take both granddaughter and guardian under their wing.
Other than it being the pic that propelled W.C. Fields’s movie career and was a rare comedy directed by the austere Griffith, this film would have been long forgotten.REVIEWED ON 11/27/2008 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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