Through the Back Door (1921)

Through The Back Door
Through the Back Door (1921)

Run time: 89 min
Rating: 7.0
Genres: Comedy | Drama
Director: Alfred E. Green, Jack Pickford
Writers: Gerald C. Duffy, Marion Fairfax
Stars: Mary Pickford, Gertrude Astor, Wilfred Lucas
Storyline
Ten year old Jeanne is left in Belgium with her maid when her mother remarries and moves to America.  Seeking safety during World War I and years after Jeanne is thought dead by her mother, Jeanne is sent to America to search for her mother.
Details:
Release Date: 5 May 1921 (USA)

4 responses to “Through the Back Door (1921)”

  1. IMDBReviewer says:

    This Mary Pickford feature has a little of everything, and while it hardly measures up to her best movies, it’s a good movie with some enjoyable comedy and some thoughtful moments. The story is quite predictable, but it gives Pickford a chance to play the kind of character that her audiences loved, and that she herself portrayed so believably.

    Pickford plays Jeanne, a young Belgian who is left behind when her mother is remarried to a rich American. When the war breaks out, Jeanne joins many other refugees, and heads to America to rejoin her mother, whom she finds in the midst of her own troubles. There are numerous complications, most of them quite familiar from other melodramas of the era. The supporting cast is solid, with Gertrude Astor particularly believable as the mother.

    The main attraction of the movie is to see Pickford play the kind of resourceful, ever-hopeful young woman that allowed her to use her wide range of acting skills. The comic parts are good, and they include the sequence with Jeanne’s innovative way of scrubbing a muddy floor. Pickford has good interactions with the other characters, both in dramatic scenes and in lighter moments.

    The story itself is somewhat uneven, but Pickford keeps it going at all times. This one is probably of interest only to those who enjoy Pickford or silent movies in general, but for those who are already fans, it has more than enough to be worth seeing.

  2. IMDBReviewer says:

    When this comedy-drama was made Mary Pickford was at the height of her fame. Like all of the films she produced and appeared in during her peak years (roughly 1917-1927) Through the Back Door was painstakingly crafted: the sets, cinematography, lighting, etc., are all state-of-the-art for the time. Pickford always chose the best supporting players in the business, and never failed to deliver an energetic and charming performance herself. Even the title cards in her movies were carefully composed and often witty, though sometimes a little puzzling; I must admit I was thrown by the introductory title to this film that declared it a "story of mother-love," an assertion that isn't exactly borne out by what follows. In any case, and although it doesn't rank with her best work, Through the Back Door could nonetheless serve as a decent introduction to Mary Pickford for viewers who have never seen her. Beyond its entertainment value, the film also offers several of Pickford's favorite recurring motifs, to wit: 1) regardless of her actual age, the star plays a preteen girl in her opening scenes and a teenager thereafter; 2) she's in search of a mother figure; 3) despite her youth, Mary's character Jeanne also acts as a surrogate mother for younger children who have been abandoned by others; 4) she encounters class prejudice, and is made to feel inferior because of her upbringing; 5) in the end, Jeanne proves that good character wins out over wealth and social position, and in doing so, gains those privileges.

    As the story begins Jeanne's widowed mother Louise plans to remarry, but her selfish fiancé, jealous of the attention the girl receives, insists that the child must be raised on a farm in her native Belgium while he and his new wife live in luxury in America. Five years pass, and Jeanne now regards her nurse Marie as her mother, just as Marie regards Jeanne as her own child. When Louise belatedly returns to claim her daughter Marie falsely claims that the girl has died, so the heartbroken woman returns home. At the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 Jeanne is sent to America, carrying a letter signed by Marie in which she confesses her lie, but circumstances prevent Jeanne from handing over the letter and identifying herself. She winds up working in her mother's household as a maid, until at last she is able to reveal the truth.

    As the synopsis may indicate, there are aspects of the story that challenge credibility. Even if we accept that Louise is willing to give up her daughter in order to remarry, why would she wait five years before going to see her? Would she believe the nurse's story of her daughter's death with no further confirmation? How is this "a story of mother-love"? Louise's actions don't seem plausible, but the greatest strain to our credulity comes in the second half, when Jeanne arrives in America (with two orphaned boys in tow) and is inexplicably reluctant to reveal her identity to her mother or anyone else. We're given to understand that she's embarrassed about her low station in life as a war refugee raised on a farm, afraid her mother might be ashamed of her, but even so we're bewildered as she passes up one opportunity after another to identify herself. I believe this plot device would have worked better if Jeanne's motivation for keeping her identity a secret had been stronger, or at least explained more fully; as it is, we watch in frustration and wonder what's the matter with the girl.

    On the plus side, however, the filmmakers made a special point of lightening the atmosphere with several bright comedy sequences, especially in the film's first half. In the best known bit Jeanne scrubs a floor by putting thick brushes on her feet, and skating around the room through the suds. Here Pickford suggests Chaplin in The Rink, not only in her grace but in her comically panic-stricken near-falls. A little later Jeanne has a run-in with an ornery mule in a scene which, strictly speaking, is irrelevant to the plot, but nevertheless welcome as comic relief. The film's second half would have benefited from more humor along these lines; instead, the story turns conventional as Jeanne helps thwart a scheme to defraud her step-father. This secondary plot is played straight, and must have felt overly familiar to viewers even in 1921.

    All told, Through the Back Door is a well-made, entertaining movie with a number of pleasing elements and a winning performance by the star. If the screenwriters had fully worked out the lead character's actions and not fallen back on formula in the second half, this might have ranked with Mary Pickford's most memorable works. Even so, second-tier Pickford is still expertly crafted silent cinema.

  3. rgkeenan says:

    This is one of Mary Pickford’s least remembered films and that’s a shame because it’s one of her best. She stars as Jeanne, a poor little rich girl fairly ignored by her mother who abandons her with a housekeeper while she goes off to marry her next husband. Then years later, the mother decides to reclaim her daughter but the housekeeper now of course loves the child as her own and says the girl is dead. Another five years pass and Jeanne, now a teenager, through circumstance ends up working as a maid for her real mother! There are many tender scenes in this movie but lots of comedy too and Mary’s washing the floor with scrub brushes tied to her feet and skating is one of her classic screen moments. The whole cast is fine and darling little Jeanne Carpenter as the very young Jeanne will surely charm you and break your heart as the abandoned child. Much as I love Mary, I would have loved to have seen more of the film with Jeanne in it.

  4. IMDBReviewer says:

    Mary Pickford and her director, Alfred Green — her brother Jack is also credited as co-director, but it’s hard to say how involved he actually was — did this movie as a comedy with a few serious bits. Miss Pickford is charming in the early scenes in Belgium, in which she gets a particularly stubborn mule to go home, and cleans a floor by strapping brushes to her feet like skates. But World War One intervenes and sends her on the road towards the plot, which is OK, even if no one else is called upon to do much. One of Bobby Harron’s brother plays the romantic boy, Adolph Menjou and his mustache get to pose and middle-aged husbands are portrayed as dangerous fools.

    Not one of Miss Pickford’s best, but her charm manages to carry it off well.

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