Home Video Reviews
Only recently have motion picture historians begun to recognize these women and how invaluable they were to many movie classics. Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Power of Women in Hollywood is a Turner Classic Movies documentary from 2000 that uses the story of one of the greatest screenwriters of either sex to illuminate the contribution of all women who work behind the camera. For those of you who missed it or would like a copy to keep, Milestone Film & Video has now released this special on VHS and DVD along with A Little Princess (1917) a feature-length movie written for Marion's friend Mary Pickford.
By the mid-teens Pickford had gained control over her movies and one of the smartest moves she made was to hire her friend Marion to write them. From 1916 to 1921 Marion wrote the films with which Pickford would always be associated such as Poor Little Rich Girl (1916), Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm (1917), and Pollyanna (1920). Marion's sure touch with humor was matched by her uncloying sentiment that delighted audiences around the world. She went on to become M-G-M's most valuable screenwriter, the only one Irving Thalberg would trust with such valuable properties as Anna Christie (1930), Dinner At Eight (1933) and Camille (1936). The Academy Awards honored her with Oscars for The Big House (1930) and The Champ (1931).
With Marion and almost everyone she worked with deceased, the makers of this documentary would expect to have trouble making this story relevant to modern audiences. Director and co-writer Bridget Terry, working with Cari Beauchamp, author of the a biography of Frances Marion, deftly sidestepped the problem by having current women filmmakers such as Martha Coolidge (Rambling Rose) and Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise) discuss what it means to be a woman working in such a male-dominated industry. Clever editing of stills and film clips with narration by Uma Thurman and Marion's own recollections read by Kathy Bates make this story of early Hollywood fresh and always interesting.
A Little Princess (1917), the Mary Pickford feature that accompanies the special, is a perfect example of what made Pickford so popular. Sentiment, humor and fantasy intertwine in the story of a rich girl left at an English boarding house by her father while he serves in India. She makes friends by concocting elaborate stories of slave girls. Also in the cast is nineteen-year old Zasu Pitts in her screen debut. The director is Mickey Neilan who crafted Pickford's best performances. Neilan's well-known problems with alcohol led him to be absent for a couple of days of the shoot. His place was taken by his assistant director, Howard Hawks (Bringing Up Baby, The Big Sleep) in his first work as director.
Milestone's presentation is a great celebration of women's talent in moving pictures and the entertainment apparent in both these films leaves no doubt they have mastered the art.
For more information about Without Lying Down, visit Milestone Films. To purchase a copy of Without Lying Down, visit TCM's Online Store.
by Brian Cady