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Milestone Film & Video presents
Heart o' the Hills (1919)

"Furriners ain't no good, no-how! They get rich diggin' our coal, an' cuttin' our timber, an' ... raisin' hell generally!"
- Mavis Hawn (Mary Pickford)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 09, 2005

Stars: Mary Pickford, Harold Goodwin, Allan Sears, Clare McDowell, John Gilbert
Other Stars: Theodore Roberts, Tully Marshall, Charles Ogle, Thomas Meighan
Director: Sidney A. Franklin

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language, moderate violence)
Run Time: 01h:17m:57s
Release Date: May 24, 2005
UPC: 014381197228
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- BCA- A

DVD Review

Spunkiness was a quality seldom in short supply in a Mary Pickford vehicle, and that's certainly the case in this adaptation of a novel by popular writer John Fox Jr. (author of such tales of people of the hill country as The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come). To make certain that there was sufficient spunkiness for her character, Pickford even had the story rewritten to make the main character a girl, converting the male lead of the book into a fairly pallid and helpless supporting character.

In the Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky, Mavis Hawn (Pickford) is determined to avenge the murder of her father by person or persons unknown. At the same time, she is being swindled out of her inheritance of coal-rich lands by the lowlander Col. Pendleton (W.H. Bainbridge). Nonetheless, she does find an appeal in the colonel's son, Gray Pendleton (a young John Gilbert, credited here as "Jack Gilbert"). Mavis' determination gets her into trouble, however, when she dons white sheets and rides with a group of "night riders" to terrorize the coal barons, and soon finds herself on trial for first-degree murder.

The sudden introduction of a Klan-like group is somewhat jarring to the modern viewer, but in the film's defense the sheeted group has no racial motivations whatsoever, but is strictly fueled out of economic rage at dispossession. That sentiment makes for an odd marriage of the reactionary and the Progressive era that will be equally peculiar to today's viewers though most likely it raised no eyebrows at all in its day.

Pickford is delightful as always, with many notable moments. One of the most memorable of these is the brief rolling of her eyes as her romantic rival, portrayed by Betty Bouton, faints dead away in best Victorian style. In this subtle and clever gesture, Pickford speaks volumes about her character's attitudes about the expectations of her gender and her impatience with them. It was most likely a sentiment shared by Pickford herself, who was the only actress to own her own production studio and have complete control over her pictures. This was the last feature she made on her own, before she began releasing films through United Artists, which she founded that same year with Fairbanks, Chaplin and Griffith.

The supporting cast is well-chosen, with Harold Goodwin as Mavis' young playmate Jason Honeycutt having a particularly good chemistry with her as she portrays the 12-year-old Mavis, teetering on the edge of womanhood in the hills but still happy to go fishing with the boys. John Gilbert essays an early version of the heartthrob roles he would later take on opposite Garbo, with a comfortable charm that's very appealing. Clare McDowell, as Mavis' mother, nicely depicts a selfish mother who realizes too late her daughter's affections. Sam De Grasse, as Mavis' stepfather, is a solid heavy, who helps steal her inheritance, not to mention beating young Jason and the widow Hawn with a hickory stick. Corporal punishment is a theme throughout the picture, with the hickory stick being a means of repression, and in a climactic moment, a symbol of Pickford's rebellion and self-emancipation. It's a quite effective motif, and a similar theme might have helped the last quarter of the picture, which feels tagged on to wrap up some storylines. Though it's a little awkward (Pickford was working without Frances Marion, who wrote many of her best scripts) there is still plenty of entertainment value here, mainly thanks to the cast.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture generally looks acceptable for the most part. The source elements are in fairly rough shape, with heavy scratching, speckling and grain throughout. As a result, the video transfer has plenty of ways to go wrong, though they're avoided for the most part. The main problem is the grain is frequently sparkly; a higher bit rate could have helped here. There's a digital feel to the picture at times, which seems to be the result of the grain problems here. Some of the intertitles are the originals (in very rough shape) and others are video re-creations in the same style. Since these are taken from Pickford's own archival prints, there's little reason to believe better source material is available, which is very unfortunate for these often-gorgeous pictures.

Image Transfer Grade: C

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0(music only)no


Audio Transfer Review: Maria Newman provides the score for Heart o' the Hills, and it is performed by the New Millennium String Quartet. For the most part it has an appropriate Appalachian feel to it, though there's an overuse of the slide whistle that I found annoying. Newman's score generally follows the action well, though on occasion it doesn't quite parallel the screen activity. Donald Sosin's score for M'Liss suffers from a similar inattention to the goings-on in the film, and often feels as if it's completely unrelated. But both scores sound first-rate, with clean and bright recordings.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Bonus Feature Film
  2. Still galleries
Extras Review: A Milestone press kit with background information regarding the films and their star is provided in pdf form, and there's also a pair of still/lobby card galleries totalling 18 images. But the real bonus is the complete 1918 feature M'Liss, presenting another backwoods Pickford characterization from a year earlier. In this gold rush tale from a story by Bret Harte, M'Liss Smith's father, the drunken Bummer Smith (Theodore Roberts) is about to come into some money, but his brother schemes to cheat him out of it, leaving M'Liss (Pickford) to fall back on her friend stagecoach driver Yuba Bill (Charles Ogle) and the new schoolteacher, Charles Gray (Thomas Meighan). There are some beautifully-shot sequences in this picture, most notably a glowing presentation of Pickford as she visits the jailhouse. Backlit, so her hair is aglow, and also given a hard light from the front so the bars cast a shadow over her face, Pickford looks like an oil painting come to life. There's also a great sequence when Yuba Bill tells M'Liss her father is dead; it's a terrific demonstration of the power of the silents, as the acting portrays everything you need to know without words. No intertitles are needed or even wanted. The film also has its fair share of quirky humor, such as Hildegarde, the chicken that follows Bummer Smith around. It's a clever little picture (1h:13m:01s) that makes for an excellent companion to the main feature.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

Double your backwoods Mary Pickford fun with this double feature disc. The films aren't her most famous or familiar, but they're often beautifully done and contain plenty of reminders why she was America's Sweetheart for many years.

 


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