January 16, 2011

Mickey (1918)

"Mickey" was a charming little film.  It was the highest grossing of the 1910s, and I can see why.  It's short, often funny, and has a feel-good story.  It's possibly the earliest Cinderella story on film, and just about everyone loves a Cinderella story.

Mabel Normand plays the main character of Mickey, and I really liked her.  I'm beginning to think I was born in the wrong era - all the movies we've watched so far have featured very ordinary women in the leading roles.  Mary Pickford was pretty, but not in an unreal, intimidating way.  Mabel Normand, while adorable, is not what I would call beautiful.  None of the women were stick figure skinny like actresses today.  These women look like me.  I don't feel bad about myself or my appearance when I'm watching them.  It would be nice if Hollywood would go back to that kind of casting; casting based on talent rather than looks.

Anyway, Mickey is a tomboy who owns a gold mine that hasn't paid out in twenty years, but she doesn't care about that because she's free to wear pants and run free and enjoy her life.  But her caretaker feels she needs the influence of women and decides to send her off to her aunt back east (probably New York although this isn't really made clear).  The aunt is the typical "wicked stepmother" character who is only willing to take Mickey in because she believes the gold mine is paying out and that Mickey will rescue them from their genteel poverty (they live in a huge mansion they can't afford, but they refuse to leave even though the electricity has been shut off).  When it becomes clear that Mickey is not wealthy, the aunt immediately turns her into a servant.

There is a love story present as well, involving a character named Thornhill.  He met Mickey out west and fell in love with her, but didn't know where she went once she was sent away.  Upon his return to the east he proposes to Mickey's rather horrible cousin Elsie because he not only doesn't know that Elsie is her cousin but also that Mickey is right there under his nose.  When he does find Mickey, their joyful reunion is dampened by his unhappy engagement.  Since he is a gentleman he doesn't want to simply end the engagement, but he does want to be with Mickey.  He consults his friend, who happens to be a lawyer, and a few days later he receives a telegram saying that there's been a problem with his inheritance or something and he's no longer rich.  Elsie finds this telegram and promptly calls off the engagement herself.

Meanwhile, Mickey is returning to the west.  After she leaves a telegram arrives for her saying that her gold mine has just hit the biggest vein ever and she's a millionaire.  The evil aunt immediately sets off after her to bring her back, and succeeds, but Mickey is unaware that she's now rich.

I thought it was obvious that the telegram about Thornhill's fortune was phony and only meant to make Elsie show her true colors, but apparently Thornhill believed it to be true.  Thus we enter the weirdest segment of the movie, involving betting on a horse race.  I admit I was completely lost during this whole segment.  There's some threat of cheating or scandal, and the horse Thornhill has bet on is going to be pulled from the race so there's no chance of him winning, but somehow Mickey is there and rides the horse herself, nearly winning the race only to fall off the horse at the last second and lose.  Very odd.

After the race there's some more weirdness with Elsie's brother pursuing Mickey through the mansion (I'm not exactly sure, but I believe he wants to force a marriage so he can control her new fortune) and Mickey is terrified and running away from him, somehow ending up on the roof, clinging perilously to the shingles to avoid falling to her death.  Inside, while she's dangling from the roof, Thornhill and the brother (name uncertain but looks like he should be called "Snidely") are boxing each other.  Thornhill wins, throws open the window, and grabs Mickey's legs at the last second, pulling her safely inside.

Thornhill and Mickey are married, although we aren't shown the wedding, and the final shot is of them on a train back west, reading a new telegram from the lawyer friend where he confesses that the first telegram was a hoax and that Thornhill's fortune is intact.  And they lived happily ever after.

Overall, it was an enjoyable story and I'd like to see it remade.  Perhaps with dialogue and all the movie making tricks we have now the story wouldn't be so confusing or seemingly all over the place.  Robin had to clarify some of what was going on just so I could write this recap and when he told me it made sense and sounded like a pretty great plot.  I just don't think the movie did a good enough job of explaining what was going on.  Also, the midi music in the background was pretty bad and distracting, but that's a minor quibble that has nothing to do with the film itself (just the DVD.)

1 comment:

  1. I loved this movie. I thought Mabel Normand was charming. The male lead what's-his-name was forgettable, however. As Robin said, there were too many endings, and I had no idea how complicated the plot was until Robin and Mandie explained it to me. Still, I can see why it was so popular in its own time, and so forgotten in ours. Like Mandie, I'd like to see a re-make. As I was watching it I said, "This is a Meg Ryan comedy!" I'm afraid Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are already too old to do the re-make, but...well, that's just a shame. A new charming starlet and a modern re-write could restore this classic to the stature it deserves.