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Little Annie Rooney

Little Annie Rooney(1925)

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teaser Little Annie Rooney (1925)

NOTE: The version of Little Annie Rooney airing on TCM October 4, 2016 (as part of TCM Spotlight: Trailblazing Women--Actresses Who Made a Difference) is the world television premiere of a new 4K HD restoration with a new score by composer Andy Gladbach. Here are a few notes on the restoration:

The original tinted nitrate print in Mary Pickford's personal collection at the Library of Congress, made from the camera negative in 1925, was brought to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences archive in Los Angeles.

Through the Mary Pickford Foundation's extraordinary, multi-year partnership with AMPAS, the Academy Film Archive preserved the film photochemically, creating new 35mm preservation masters and prints.

The preservation master was then scanned at 4K high definition so that the MPF, in cooperation with AMPAS, could create a digital version, evaluating the film frame by frame, removing dirt and other signs of deterioration to perfectly match the original nitrate tints and tones.

Then, through the MPF Composition Program at Pepperdine University, an extremely gifted young composer, Andy Gladbach, was chosen to create a new sound track for the film. Mentored by professionals, Gladbach was joined by a 16 piece orchestra that included three percussionists, as well as a conductor and engineers, to record his original music

For years Mary Pickford claimed the title of "America's Sweetheart" for herembodiment of innocent charm and ebullient optimism. These qualities areabundantly evident in Little Annie Rooney (1925), one of theperformances that defines her cinematic persona.

The genesis of the film began as Pickford was one night wandering through adeserted urban set on a Hollywood backlot. She thought it might beeffective to play a rough-and-tumble Irish girl of the pavements. Seekingfurther advice from someone with a distinctly Irish-American perspective,she called silent comedienne Mabel Normand, who simply suggested, "I'd getan Irish title...and write something to go with it."

In the titular role, Pickford is an inner-city ragamuffin who stirs uptrouble in the tenements during the day, while in the evening tending toher father, a burly, firm-but-fair Irish cop (Walter James). The seniorRooney keeps a watchful eye on Annie's brother Tim (Gordon Griffith), whohas fallen in with a band of streetcorner loafers teetering on the edge ofcriminality. Annie harbors a not-so-secret crush on Tim's pal Joe (WilliamHaines), a handsome tough who seems destined to follow in the footsteps ofSpider (Hugh Fay), the neighborhood ex-con.

During a brawl at a neighborhood dance, Officer Rooney is shot by one ofTim's delinquent sidekicks (Carlo Schipa), who casts the blame on Joe.Devastated by her father's death, Annie clings to the belief that Joe mustbe innocent and endeavors to save him, even as her brother takes gun inhand to avenge the murder of his father.

Haines, who plays Annie's would-be love interest, was a popular leading manin the silent era, but is most famous today for being one of the firstmajor Hollywood stars not to hide his homosexuality. Ultimately Haines's refusal toforsake his lover, Jimmie Shields, damaged his acting career, but fordecades he remained a respected and beloved member of the Hollywoodcommunity. (Joan Crawford called Haines and Shields "the happiest marriedcouple in Hollywood.")

One of the founding members of United Artists, Pickford was perhaps themost powerful woman in Hollywood at the time, not only a top-drawerbox-office star but the head of her own production company. Tired of thesausage-curled sweetheart that she had been playing since the early 1910sunder D.W. Griffith, Pickford used her independence to escape the wholesomewaif stereotype. "I hate these curls!" she once said. "I'm in a dramaticrut eternally playing this curly-headed girl. I loathe them!"

After such departure films as Frances Marion's The Love Light (1921)and the costume picture Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall (1924, whichshe co-directed with Marshall Neilan), she felt obliged to provide her fanswith a quintessential Pickford performance. So, as Variety reportedin its review of Little Annie Rooney, "Gone are the long velvetrobes, the flowing plumes, the brocades and white powdered wigs, and Maryis again a smudgy-faced gamin of the streets. She's dirty-hands,dirty-face and all that sort of things, and the fans are going to love herto death."

Pickford's decision to star in Little Annie Rooney was not a totalconcession to the public's desires. Instead of the much-despised sausagecurls, she allowed her hair to dangle in two waist-length braids. At thetime she made the film, Pickford was 32 years old, but was still able toblend in with actors a third her age, testament not only to her diminutivesize but to her gifts of mimicry.

Her juvenile co-stars were probably based on the successful "Our Gang" kids,who had been assembled by producer Hal Roach circa 1922. But the OurGang chums inhabited a more idyllic world than the gritty urban setting ofLittle Annie Rooney. Presaging the dour setting of 1937's Dead End(which spawned the "Dead End Kids"), Pickford's film places itsdirty-faced waifs in a crime-ridden asphalt jungle. Regardless ofthe dour socio-economic circumstances that surround them, the multi-cultirascals maintain their pluck and childish innocence. Only in a Hollywoodreconstruction of tenement life could Irish, Greek, Jewish,African-American, Italian and Chinese children wage war with volleys ofbricks and bottles, all in the spirit of wholesome fun. So bright is theoverriding charm of Pickford that the audience is blind to the story'spotentially depressing setting. A year later, she further challengedaudience optimism by leading a group of orphans through analligator-infested swamp in Sparrows (1926), and again succeeded.

Both Little Annie Rooney and Sparrows were directed byWilliam Beaudine, who was essentially a Hollywood workhorse with a gift forstrictly adhering to budgets and schedules. In the course of hisfifty-year career he directed approximately 250 films and numerous TVshows, ranging from high-profile star vehicles to skid row comedies (suchas Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, 1952). Beaudine was cannyenough to know what the audience expected of Little Annie Rooney,and he kept the camera focused on Pickford as much as possible. In one scene ofunmitigated pathos, the camera is riveted to Pickford's face as Annieresponds to news of her father's death -- releasing a torrent of tears andwoeful expressions of little-girl grief. Few actresses could stand up tosuch a demanding task, but Pickford does so with grace and power. Thepainfully prolonged close-up becomes the emotional core of Little AnnieRooney, and reminds viewers of the remarkable acting talent possessedby Pickford, a genuine mastery of the art that might easily be overlookedamid the woman-child playfulness for which she is more famous.

As if the challenge of depicting Annie's grief were not difficult enough,Beaudine broke the proper mood by yelling, just before the take, "All rightboys, get out the rubber boots, Mary has got to cry!" After Pickford got backinto character, the shoot was interrupted by Rudolph Valentino, whoappeared on the set for an unexpected visit. "At any other time hispresence would have been thrilling and welcome," Pickford later wrote inher autobiography Sunshine and Shadow, "but that afternoon it threwme emotionally off balance. It took me hours to get back into the mood ofthe tragedy of that little girl of twelve. Had it been make-believe andnothing more, I could have turned it on and off at will. But I really wasthat bereaved little orphan."

Pickford may have tapped into a vein of stress that was running deepthrough her own life at the time. Police had uncovered a plot to kidnapthe actress, but could not arrest the culprits until they actuallyattempted to abduct her. Watched by a bodyguard, often accompaniedby police escort, sometimes employing a decoy "double," the actress wasrequired to maintain her usual acting/producing schedule while alwayswondering when the kidnappers might strike. Eventually the men wereapprehended and sentenced to ten to fifty years at San Quentinprison.

Producer: Mary Pickford
Director: William Beaudine
Screenplay: Louis Lighton and Hope Loring
Based on a story by Katherine Hennessey
Cinematography: Charles Rosher and Hal Mohr
Production Design: John D. Schulze
Principal Cast: Mary Pickford (Annabelle Rooney), William Haines (Joe Kelly),Walter James (Officer Rooney), Gordon Griffith (Tim Rooney).

By Bret Wood

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