Tess of the Storm Country (1914 film)
Directed by Edwin S. Porter
Produced by Famous Players Film Company
Written by B. P. Schulberg
Based on Tess of the Storm Country
by Grace Miller White
Starring Mary Pickford
Cinematography Edwin S. Porter
Distributed by Famous Players Film Company (State's Rights Distribution)
March 20, 1914
Country United States
Tess of the Storm Country is a 1914 silent drama, based on the 1909 novel of the same name by Grace Miller White. It starred Mary Pickford, in a role she would reprise eight years later for the 1922 adaptation by John S. Robertson. In 2006, the film was named to the National Film Registry by the Librarian of Congress, for its "cultural, aesthetic, or historical significance".
Mary Pickford as Tessibel Skinner
Harold Lockwood as Frederick Graves
Olive Carey as Teola Graves
David Hartford as Daddy Skinner
Louise Dunlap as Old Mother Moll
William Walters as Elias Graves
Richard Garrick as Ben Letts
Eugene Walter as Ezra Longman
Jack Henry as Dan Jordan
H.R. Macy as DeForrest Young, Attorney at Law
H.L. Griffith as Old Longman
The son of the wealthy family, Frederick, falls in love with Tess, who overcomes her hesitancy given their stations in life, and she reciprocates. But an impossibly huge obstacle to their relationship develops, having nothing to do with their social disparity. Frederick’s sister, Teola, becomes pregnant and gives birth to a child out-of-wedlock. Teola is suicidal. Tess, fearing for the mother and the child, takes responsibility for the baby, unafraid that others now believe it was hers to begin with. Frederick, not knowing the child is his sister’s, drops Tess flat.
Tess, in her squatter’s existence, cannot afford to feed the baby, and is forced to steal milk — from Fred and Teola’s family. She is caught and beaten (with a whip, no less) by Fred’s and the real mother’s father. Two incidents show her character and her resolve. After she is whipped, rather than fleeing or weeping, she remains steadfast and calmly asks the father for the milk. Later, when the child is dying, she takes it to church, and in mid-service, presents the baby for baptism before it dies. When the pastor refuses, she takes it upon herself to “bless” the child with the holy water. At this point, Teola, who is at the service, claims the child as her own, to the gasps of the congregation, including Frederick. It is a scene among the high points of American cinema.
Based upon a novel by Grace Miller White, Tessibel Skinner is the daughter of a family of fisherman squatters living on shore of property owned by a wealthy family whose son meets and falls in love with “Tess.” As played by Pickford, Tess is a force of nature, wild but intelligent and loyal, a temper barely controlled by a native goodness, ultimately selfless. It is a characterization that Pickford had been building, reel by single reel in Biograph shorts: “Harum-Scarum” in The Mountaineer’s Honor (1909), the titular roles of Wilful Peggy (1910) and The Mender of Nets (1912).
Directed by Edwin S. Porter (of The Great Train Robbery fame), the 1914 version of Tess of the Storm Country is both technically primitive and thematically saccharine. However, this shamelessly manipulative melodrama about a bratty waif who manages to save her father from prison and to marry a rich, good-looking guy boasts a solid comic performance by Mary Pickford, at the time probably the most popular film performer in the world. Pickford is so good, in fact, that she succeeds in making the maudlin material at worst bearable and at best quite affecting. The film's leading man, Harold Lockwood, was a popular star in the 1910s. His promising career was cut short by the Spanish influenza epidemic. He died in Oct. 1918 at the age of 33.
As a result of the film industry's rapid technological progress – and the fact that most movies were forgotten shortly after their (usually) brief run – Pickford herself would remake Tess of the Storm Country a mere eight years later. Ironically, the smoother 1922 Tess is considerably phonier (and duller) than the earlier version, partly because of its very technical proficiency (the creakiness of the 1914 film perfectly matches the story's quaintness), and partly because Pickford's gamine-playing had by then become more than a tad too mechanical. Janet Gaynor starred in an unwatchable Fox remake in 1932, while Diane Baker played Tess in a little-seen 1960 film.
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