The Sunday Intertitle: Child in the Streets

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From 1925, William Beaudine’s LITTLE ANNIE ROONEY *may* qualify as the first feature film adapted from a comic strip, except that in a manner sadly familiar, Hollywood decided to completely ignore the source material, which was a newspaper strip inspired by ripped off from Little Orphan Annie (itself adapted to film first in the thirties). The comic featured an adorable orphan traveling the land with her pet dog. Annie in the movie is 33-year-old Mary Pickford playing 13, a tough Irish street kid with parents and no dog. “Based on a title by” would be a fair way of describing the movie’s relationship to its source.

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Still, the movie is enjoyable, opening with a kids’ street battle involving lobbed bricks and bottles, action which would imply a CLOCKWORK ORANGE style horrorshow about juvenile delinquency if portrayed today, but in 1925 was just good clean fun. Children glassing each other is inherently hilarious.

There’s also inappropriate ethnic humour. The little black kid looks from a window, a projectile takes his cap off, and his hair explodes like Mt. Saint Helens.

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Then there’s the depressed looking Jewish kid at his tenement window, unhappy because he’s not allowed to join in the pogrom below.

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Somehow this is all pretty good-natured, and the upbeat attitude to slum life anticipate the rough-and-tumble of the Warners pre-code era, where the pageant of suffering humanity becomes a carnival of jocular grotesquerie.

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6 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Child in the Streets”

  1. revelator60 Says:

    Beaudine had a reputation in the industry as being good with kids, as evidenced in Sparrows, his next and last movie with Pickford, and his two versions of Penrod and Sam, along with more obscure titles like Boy of Mine, The Country Kid, Father’s Son, etc.

    His most prominent films (Sparrows, The Canadian, The Old Fashioned Way) show he was a talented journeyman, but his Hollywood career mysteriously went to B-movie hell after an interlude in England filming Will Hay comedies.

  2. Fascinating. I wonder if drink was an issue, but then it mystifies me that talent considered unreliable on giant productions would be entrusted with pictures that absolutely positively have to be shot in two weeks.

    Pickford makes a convincingly tiny teen — except when surrounded by genuine kids.

  3. revelator60 Says:

    From what I remember of the biography written by his granddaughter, drink wasn’t an issue. The problem might have been that he was too reliable (even during his peak years he was known for working quickly and cheaply) and after being out of the Hollywood loop for a few years, he grabbed whatever steady work he could, and ended up never running out of it.
    Pickford, incidentally, became a nightmare to work with on Sparrows and concocted a story about Beaudine putting her life at risk with alligators, which was clearly untrue and later denied by the cameraman. Beaudine, who’d developed temporary facial paralysis from the strain of working with Pickford, issued the gentlest possible rebuttal when Kevin Brownlow asked him about it.

  4. William “One Shot” Beaudine directed Monogram’s Bowery Boys series whose head writer was

    (wait for it)

    Cy Endfield

  5. And now, the “Little Annie Rooney” musical! (This clip has Natalie Wood singing in her own voice. The release version was dubbed by Jackie Ward)

  6. I quite like her singing. Not up to the Hollywood standard of the day, I guess, but you gain an intimacy.

    It’s a great image, all these Hollywood people walking around with frozen faces from having worked with Pickford!

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