I went to a silent movie festival last night in St. Thomas, Ontario, with some early “talkies” thrown in. The evening was to celebrate the life of Dell Henderson, a St. Thomas native who starred in many pioneering films. It was wondrous! Especially a five-year-old girl in 1912’s Sunbeam. Our host told us that the wee actress died in her 40’s. So I was looking at a darling ball of energy who’s been dead for 65 years. Wow. That stops me in my tracks.
I’ll call her Mary. She lives in an apartment upstairs with her mom. In the first scene, it appears that mother dies in bed, with the little one sitting beside her. Mary looks to be in shock. As the movie progresses, she befriends a depressed single lady who live in an apartment on the first floor. The woman tries to shoo Mary away until the child gently takes her hand. Then their eyes meet. Then the woman melts.
Across the hall is a harried single fellow, caught up in the stress of life. Mary walks right into his apartment. He’s aghast at her intrusion and tries shoving her out the door. But Mary works her magic again and soon he too is putty in her hands.
Older friends of Mary post a “Scarlet Fever” sign on the gentleman’s door. Somehow Mary gets the lady to check on the apparently ill fellow. Then the police come and quarantine the three of them in his apartment. Mary holds hands with both of them and soon the adults are looking into each other’s eyes.
Once Mary’s dead mother is discovered upstairs, the young man and young woman, through the magic of non-verbal communication, launch a plan to wed and adopt Mary.
Not a sophisticated film, but so what? A very sentimental effort, but again so what? Look what a five-year-old girl can do. I volunteer with twenty-seven 12-year-olds. I sense they’re just as powerful.
And then there was Choo Choo, made in 1932. Here’s a review:
“Without a doubt, Choo Choo has to be one of the finest Little Rascals films ever made. [The kids were also known as “Our Gang”.] During a stopover, some orphans convince the gang to take their place on the train that’s taking them to their new home. The gang manages to make the train ride a living hell for the prissy, child-hating Mr. Henderson, (played by Dell Henderson) who is assigned the unenviable task of shepherding the “orphans” to their final destination. There is enough mayhem here to rival any Three Stooges short – perhaps this was inspired by the Stooges themselves who were as popular during this period. There is not one wasted performance here – Wheezer, Stymie, Sherwood and Breezy, and of course Spanky, who steals the show without a single word of dialogue, socking Henderson in the nose. Henderson’s response (“Nice boys don’t do that!”) earns him another bop in the face. The mayhem accelerates as a drunken novelty salesman passes out noisemakers to the gang in the sleeper car. Things then go from bad to worse when Stymie and a monkey in the freight car release a menagerie of animals into the sleeper section of the train. One can tell that everyone involved in the making of Choo Choo must have had a great time doing it – and it shows.”
So … a somewhat different display of kid power. I sure don’t condone hitting people in the face, but oh, was it funny! The adults had no chance against the cunning of children. Makes me want to be one again (maybe for a day). I wonder what mischief I could get up to. And as for Sunbeam, what kindness could I send to sad adults?