Jump to content
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...


Guest dredagain

Recommended Posts

STELLA MARIS has got to be one of the great silent films. Superstar Mary Pickford plays two roles in this seemingly sentimental tale (but it's not). She plays the lovely but crippled Stella Maris, whose family works hard to hide the ugliness of life from. She is shielded from the world because she is crippled. But of course her family doesn't do her any real favors. Eventually Stella is able to walk, and she discovers the horrors of war and crime and poverty by herself.


Pickford also plays Unity Blake, a homely and misshapen orphan who is taken from the orphanage by a cruel and drunken woman (Marcia Manon) who eventually beats her and goes to jail. Sent back to the orphanage, Unity is "hired" by the cruel woman's husband (Conway Tearle), but he is enamored of beautiful Stella Maris.


Pickford is just plain brilliant in playing these two women (and yes they share a few scenes together). Stella is pretty much standard fare for Pickford: golden curls, white frilly dresses, etc. Unity is a marvel of invention with her crooked body, crooked smile, and long dark hair. It's hard to believe this is Mary Pickford.


The film itself uses the iris shot beautifully to show what characters are thinking. The fade outs are well done. The scenes where the two Pickford characters appear together are flawless. Of special note is a gorgeous shot of Unity approaching the camera for a closeup, but in the end only her eyes show up in a deep purple tinted scene.


The ending is haunting. Superb work.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In the Pickford biography by Eileen Whitfield, the author makes an excellent point about the reputation and "memory" of Pickford's silent films.


Pickford's final film was in 1933, and she made only 5 talkies out of nearly 250 films. Depending on your definition of "feature," she starred in maybe 25 features from the mid-teens to the late 20s. Although many of her films were tremendous blockbusters (rivaling the box-office power of Chaplin, Fairbanks, Swanson, etc.) by 1933 silent films were already relegated (generally) to the heap of passe art, and many of Pickford's biggest hits hadn't been seen in a decade.


The other dynamic that helped destroy Pickford's reputation is the rise of Shirley Temple about the same time that Pickford disappeared from the screen. Temple played a little miss fix it just as Pickford often had, Temple wore girlie clothes and blonde curly hair, Temple also played a character that healed hearts, etc. 30s audiences went crazy for the little girl the same way audiences had for Pickford in the teens. Except Temple was a little girl, while Pickford had been a young adult. On one level there was something more "honest" about Temple in the minds of 30s audiences (even though she played much older than her years).


The final nail in Pickford's reputation was when the studios started putting Temple in cloying remakes of Pickford's great hits (REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM, DADDY LONG LEGS (as CURLY TOP) THE LITTLE PRINCESS, POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL, etc.). What audiences had forgotten was that Pickford's films, as well as her characterizations, were never cloying, sugary tripe as Temple's were. Temple's films were basically aimed at kids (family entertainment); Pickford's films were always aimed at an adult audience.


While "modern" audiences always think it's peculiar that Pickford played "little Mary" for so long; it seems more peculiar that Temple played worldly-wise characters that were way over her head. Temple doing "adult" dances charmed the 30s, but it looks pretty smarmy now.


The final straw (one that thankfully never broke a camel's back) was that at one point when Temple was 13 or 14 there was a plan for her to remake STELLA MARIS! The mind boggles at the thought.


It was not until Pickford's death in 1979 that her films were rescued (she almost destroyed them all), restored, and SHOWN. Thankfully her reputation has been (partially) restored for her remarkable and complex performances in great films like STELLA MARIS. Pickford in her prime was a dynamo who acted, produced, cast, and sometimes even wrote and directed her own films. She had almost total control over her features, a truly remarkable fact, considering her era.


Mary Pickford acted in her first film in 1909! Let's hope there is some big BIG centennial film festival planned to help audiences rediscover this great star.

Link to comment
Share on other sites



Blast, I lost my entire lengthy response when I tried to post just now. There is so doubt that Mary Pickford's general body of work is vastly underrated, and has been sadly neglected for the most part!


Even many motion picture historians seem to have dismissed her outright. All to few appear to have given her work serious consideration? By and large the majority of her films remain grossly under-evaluated. This is nothing short of unbelievable to me? Here was the first Mega-Star of the American Cinema, and much of her best work is luckily still with us!


One contemporary critic noted that while He acknowledged the undeniable impact Pickford had during her career, that "She never really made a great, or particularly memorable movie!" I could not disagree more strongly with that critic, who probably had not seen more than a few films? To put it mildly, I was annoyed if not outright shocked when I read this comment some years ago.


The fact is, Mary made so many outstanding films, that it is difficult for me personally to name a favorite. While it is true that Pickford considered destroying her work during the 60's (parish the thought), I think by the early 70's a deal had been struck with Blackhawk films for what was called THE FESTIVAL SERIES. I have several films in this series that say copyright 1972, on them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 9 years later...

I just loved this movie, Stella Maris thinks there is only peace and happiness in the world, she has never heard of war or hunger and thinks everyone is happy because she was told this ever since she was a child; her friend John comes to see her and tell stories of his wonderful castle and happy life. In reality, there was war and hunger, and John's real life was miserable, the world that Stella knew did not exist. It would be so difficult to one day find out your world was nothing like you thought and to adjust to a scary new place you didn't even know existed. It makes you wonder if Stella's guardians were wrong or right to make her believe there was only happiness; if they knew she would be crippled for life and would spend most of her life in her room, it is understandable why they might hide some of the ugliness from the outside. But, as the movie shows, those actions can also cause problems.

Unity Blake's story of suffering and hardship was also very interesting. Mary was almost unrecognizable with her Unity makeup and costume, and with her convincing acting skills, you'd never guess that Stella Maris and Unity Blake were both Mary Pickford!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

I saw this movie in LA with a friend who was unfamiliar with silent movies and Pickford. After the movie ended, I asked her what she thought of it and she replied,"I thought it was pretty good! Mary Pickford was really good but that woman who played the orphan was great!" Then I paused for a moment and asked her if she was joking, then she was like "what do you mean?" Then I told her that Mary Pickford played both roles! 


Now to be fair, my friend doesn't pay much attention to details and isn't much of a silent movie aficionado, but it's pretty amazing almost 100 years later, her Unity Blake character is almost like a completely different actress is playing her. 

  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 years later...

I was literally thinking of posting about this movie seconds before I saw this thread.

I've thought since I first saw it that Stella Maris was a very underrated silent film.

The first time I saw it I knew little to nothing about it but that Mary played the lead. Seriously, I had no freaking clue that she was in a dual role. She was so different in mannerisms and even look, it was maybe half way through before I had started thinking "wait, is that her in both roles?" The realization a shock. Ever since, she has been one of my all time favorites. Incredible work, one of the best performances I've ever seen in any film. I've rarely been as impressed.

It really is, MerryPickford, like a totally different actor is playing the role. Not much better of a compliment than that, i'd think.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 9 months later...

I saw it on YouTube last week.  I agree a very good but slightly controversial film from that era.  The film highlights such  substance abuse and marital discard,  a rarity back then.  I was shocked Unity killed herself, after killing the evil wife that nearly her to death.  Now I want to see " Little Annie Roonie".






Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...

© 2023 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Settings
  • Create New...