director D.W. Griffith
A couple of years back, I watched D.W. Griffith’s 1925 film Sally of the Sawdust by myself and enjoyed it immensely. It was one of those films that I wanted to share with others, thought of many who would like it. It was something I wanted to see again, a movie I wanted to watch with the kids. So that’s what we did.
Considered one of Griffith’s minor films, much less considered, say that The Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916), Broken Blossoms (1919) and others, it features his less heralded leading lady, Carole Dempster (as opposed to Lillian Gish). It’s not an epic, and while it certainly features aspects of melodrama, it’s a comedic tale of class and character and features a classic sort of car chase cross-cutting ending far more amusing than dramatic.
The story of Sally, who is orphaned young and left in the care of Professor Eustace McGargle (a young and very funny W.C. Fields), who raises her among the circus, friend of elephants and acrobats, a feisty tomboy who loves her “Pop”, not knowing her real parents. Her real mother had been disowned by her dour father, the Judge, who hated “show people”. Clara kept saying that he was a “terrible judge” for hating circus people prejudicially. Too true.
When McGargle tries to bring Sally back to her “people”, he finds the judge no better for his years, only richer. But Sally’s grandmother takes a shine to her and her wacky dancing. And the “boy next door” also falls for her.
Dempster plays Sally as quite a character. She’s very physical, embodied in extremity in her dance performances, which are anomalous and quirky as heck. Her oddball charm is quite something. She and W.C. Fields are a lot of fun together.
I’ll admit, the film has more charm perhaps than greatness, but I find it very enjoyable. Clara and Felix both enjoyed it too. It’s one of very few silent films that we’ve watched together that was not a classic slapstick style comedy. It’s still a personal favorite of mine, but I’m now feeling more and more like seeing more of Griffith’s films.