Little Annie Rooney (1925)
“OUR MARY – As you like her best—a broth of a brat ready to fight at the drop of a hat—and drop the hat!”
Director: William Beaudine
Cast: Mary Pickford, William Haines, Walter James
Synopsis: A tough slum girl faces a crisis of the heart when the boy she loves is accused of shooting her cop father.
Presumably, by 1925 the mere appearance of Mary Pickford in a movie was enough to ensure its box office success because the makers of Little Annie Rooney clearly felt that there was no need for anything other than an arbitrary storyline to fill out the more than 90 minute running time. It opens with Mary and her gang engaging in a fight with a rival gang that lasts around 20 minutes. Bricks are thrown with abandon, but no heads or bones are broken, and anyone who gets in the way of a missile simply rubs their head before returning to the fray.
We’re then treated to a long, drawn out sequence in which Annie’s home life is explored. She’s the daughter of a cop (Walter James), with whom she lives in a modest apartment with her older brother, Tim (Gordon Griffith). At 33, Pickford was just ten years younger than her screen father, and actually fifteen years older than her ‘older’ screen brother. Of course she doesn’t, for one minute, convince as a twelve-year-old but the 1920s audiences apparently lapped her up in these kind of roles. In fact, her previous few movies, in which she had played fully grown women, had all bombed, and Little Annie Rooney marked a return to a proven formula in order to recover Pickford’s position as a major star.
Although Little Annie Rooney was a box office hit it’s an achingly dull film for most of its running time. This is largely because it’s virtually plotless, and relies entirely on the charisma of its star to pull it through. While this might have been fine in the 1920s, today Pickford’s allure is considerably less than it was back then, and contemporary audiences will gain little from it. Things do improve in the film’s final act, but Pickford wrings every ounce of emotion from a situation that must have been cliched even in 1925. Unless you’re a diehard Pickford fan, this is definitely one to avoid.
(Reviewed 1st August 2013)