March 18, 1918 [Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley]

Artists high, low and in-between cannot resist Pygmalion and his living statue. If Shaw's play a few years ago seems the most recent height the tale has reached, it finds in Amarilly and her Irish brethren a grinning line of resistance: Amarilly moves as easily from her washer-woman life to the High Tea of a Society that sees her merely as an "experiment." It is, of course, eventually a failed one. But Amarilly (Mary Pickford, once more part spitfire, part sweetheart) remains non-plussed, her Irish sensibility—as the film is quick to remind us—eager to find the joke in class scorn. I'm reminded of my Irish uncle, a wry one to his Celtic bones, a gentle cynic who expects the worst but who shrugs at every mess with semi-feigned unconcern. Like the American Negro, the Irish see America from—how should I put it? Not a unique position—Woman, as the suffragists inform us, feels the sting of her own Lower Depths as much as any (ex-)slave or Huddled Mass—but perhaps it is a position particularly marked by birth, as slave or slave-laborer. (Someone, it appears, needs to ponder with more depth than I can manage, the "particular positions" of women among the Negroes and the Irish.)

Sometimes, though, that bravado is not enough, as when Amarilly's face freezes in pity for her mother, who is neered at by the "ladies" who gingerly handle her bonnet. But I am more reminded of the all-but-comic blow-up when the mother discusses with one dowager the woes of a washer-woman's life—and the Fine Lady rises in outrage, exclaiming, "How dare she bring up my past?" It seems the film-makers share in their Irish surrogates' sense of humor, one that understands irony and the joy of reversal.

As usual, the film is marred with unnecessary plot developments—Amarilly's Beau, Terry, is arbitrarily wounded by "Snitch" McCarthy, the gossip who, despite his eye-patch, sees everything—except where he's aiming a pistol. Terry, of course, recovers, his girl his prop and best pal; but Amarilly's level head and love of her life and their already-Romanticized rough-and-tumble neighborhood most certainly was all the motivation she needed to stand by her man.

Well, it appears the picture drew me into its outlandish liberties: You know you've lost when you begin arguing for more realism in a movie like this. I'd be more honest to admit it does just fine without me—maybe a bit too obvious, too ready to theatrically plant its hands on its hips and crack wise; but it's a little late in the day for me to start complaining. As always, the cinema does as it pleases. And with a solid little contraption like Amarilly, I'm better off in acquiescence to its charms than disdain for its rough edges.

(I'll save for another day any scorn for the mercenary cynicism that seems to lie behind such pictures, alarmingly quick to play by the rules of easy sentiment—and even easier caricature. Poverty, one might note, is not prone to merry endings. Tonight, though, I will indulge, and remain content to leave Amarilly with her Terry, far from the meddlings of the hard truth.)


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