Little Annie Rooney

Movie Information

Genre: Comedy Melodrama
Director: William Beaudine
Starring: Mary Pickford, William Haines, Walter James, Gordon Griffith, Carlo Schipa, Spec O'Donnell
Rated: NR

Personally, I find Mary Pickford a little frightening, and I find the idea of the 33-year-old actress playing a girl about 20 years her junior even more alarming. Still, I can’t say that Little Annie Rooney — either despite or because of these things — didn’t finally win me over as a charmingly old-fashioned entertainment.

It takes some getting used to that “Little Mary” — with her rouged, “bee-stung” lips — is the tomboy of the tenements. Likewise, the film’s romanticized notions of poverty are also a tough sell. Yet both Little Annie Rooney and Pickford are insidious in how they sneak up on you, and you find yourself involved in the proceedings before you know what’s happening to you. And that may be the secret to why Pickford was the movies’ first superstar.

Actually, Little Annie Rooney is one of her more palatable offerings, largely eschewing the treacly religiosity she too often liked to pour on top of her films. In fact, this tale of slum-girl Annie is surprisingly hard-edged. As noted, it does romanticize poverty — the tenements being a pretty happy spot, all in all — but it doesn’t prettify the physical aspects of its environment. The slums are a fairly desolate-looking place, despite the cheeriness of their inhabitants.

It’s also something of a surprise to find a Pickford vehicle that doesn’t shy away from some fairly rough humor, including a large dose of ethnic jokes. Such things were pretty standard in silent comedy, but are not so common in Pickford’s world. So in many ways, Little Annie Rooney is the perfect example of her films, since it nicely showcases her plucky good humor, yet seems less forced than much of her catalog.

The film is directed by William Beaudine — better known today as “One-Shot” Beaudine for the plethora of B-movies he churned out later in his career; in 1944 alone, he knocked out 10 features! But Little Annie Rooney is also a reminder of what a good director he could be, if given the time and budget. The film is generally never less than entertaining, and sometimes — in its casual sentiment — it can be quite moving without seeming manipulative.

And if you’ve never seen Pickford, this is a great place to start.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

[Cinema in the Park will show Little Annie Rooney at dark (about 8:45 p.m.) on Saturday, May 22 in downtown Asheville’s Pritchard Park). Musical accompaniment will be provided by Aaron Price & Friends.]

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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One thought on “Little Annie Rooney

  1. Kimeron

    I have to agree with Mr. Hanke that Pickford just doesn’t work as a 12 year old. Even from the first scene, I found myself wondering why this full grown woman was street fighting with little boys, in grown up makeup. I was so taken aback by it, that I couldn’t help but wonder if the actress herself was so lost in narcissism by the time she made this picture that she had lost all sense of reality (think Martin Short in “Clifford”).

    Having said that, if you squint your eyes, pretend that she’s more like 18 or 19 (just to make it work a little better), she does show good comic chops and a nice range of emotion for the silent screen.

    The Terra Films soundtrack was bizarre and distracting, weaving too many well-known musical themes into the background, like Wagner’s Bridal chorus and Jingle Bells, during completely unrelated scenes.

    The ethnic stereotypes, apparently common in film at the time, were also jolting in today’s age

    William Haines has star power, even in a minor role.

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