Cast & Crew
Little Annie Rooney, the daughter of a policeman, divides her time between getting into mischief and caring for her father and her brother, Tim. Annie's father is killed in a gang brawl, and Annie and Tim become intent on revenge. When they learn that Joe Kelly, the apple of Annie's eye, has been blamed for the murder, Tim takes his father's gun and shoots him. Meanwhile, in the company of a band of neighborhood ruffians, Annie captures the real killer. Annie goes to the hospital where Joe lies fighting for his life and consents to a blood transfusion that saves him. Joe recovers and goes into the trucking business; Tim becomes a traffic cop.
Little Annie Rooney
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 her embodiment of innocent charm and ebullient optimism. These qualities are abundantly evident in Little Annie Rooney (1925), one of the performances that defines her cinematic persona.
The genesis of the film began as Pickford was one night wandering through a deserted urban set on a Hollywood backlot. She thought it might be effective to play a rough-and-tumble Irish girl of the pavements. Seeking further advice from someone with a distinctly Irish-American perspective, she called silent comedienne Mabel Normand, who simply suggested, "I'd get an Irish title...and write something to go with it."
In the titular role, Pickford is an inner-city ragamuffin who stirs up trouble in the tenements during the day, while in the evening tending to her father, a burly, firm-but-fair Irish cop (Walter James). The senior Rooney keeps a watchful eye on Annie's brother Tim (Gordon Griffith), who has fallen in with a band of streetcorner loafers teetering on the edge of criminality. Annie harbors a not-so-secret crush on Tim's pal Joe (William Haines), a handsome tough who seems destined to follow in the footsteps of Spider (Hugh Fay), the neighborhood ex-con.
During a brawl at a neighborhood dance, Officer Rooney is shot by one of Tim's delinquent sidekicks (Carlo Schipa), who casts the blame on Joe. Devastated by her father's death, Annie clings to the belief that Joe must be innocent and endeavors to save him, even as her brother takes gun in hand to avenge the murder of his father.
Haines, who plays Annie's would-be love interest, was a popular leading man in the silent era, but is most famous today for being one of the first major Hollywood stars not to hide his homosexuality. Ultimately Haines's refusal to forsake his lover, Jimmie Shields, damaged his acting career, but for decades he remained a respected and beloved member of the Hollywood community. (Joan Crawford called Haines and Shields "the happiest married couple in Hollywood.")
One of the founding members of United Artists, Pickford was perhaps the most powerful woman in Hollywood at the time, not only a top-drawer box-office star but the head of her own production company. Tired of the sausage-curled sweetheart that she had been playing since the early 1910s under D.W. Griffith, Pickford used her independence to escape the wholesome waif stereotype. "I hate these curls!" she once said. "I'm in a dramatic rut 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, which she co-directed with Marshall Neilan), she felt obliged to provide her fans with a quintessential Pickford performance. So, as Variety reported in its review of Little Annie Rooney, "Gone are the long velvet robes, the flowing plumes, the brocades and white powdered wigs, and Mary is 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 her to death."
Pickford's decision to star in Little Annie Rooney was not a total concession to the public's desires. Instead of the much-despised sausage curls, she allowed her hair to dangle in two waist-length braids. At the time she made the film, Pickford was 32 years old, but was still able to blend in with actors a third her age, testament not only to her diminutive size 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 Our Gang chums inhabited a more idyllic world than the gritty urban setting of Little Annie Rooney. Presaging the dour setting of 1937's Dead End (which spawned the "Dead End Kids"), Pickford's film places its dirty-faced waifs in a crime-ridden asphalt jungle. Regardless of the dour socio-economic circumstances that surround them, the multi-culti rascals maintain their pluck and childish innocence. Only in a Hollywood reconstruction of tenement life could Irish, Greek, Jewish, African-American, Italian and Chinese children wage war with volleys of bricks and bottles, all in the spirit of wholesome fun. So bright is the overriding charm of Pickford that the audience is blind to the story's potentially depressing setting. A year later, she further challenged audience optimism by leading a group of orphans through an alligator-infested swamp in Sparrows (1926), and again succeeded.
Both Little Annie Rooney and Sparrows were directed by William Beaudine, who was essentially a Hollywood workhorse with a gift for strictly adhering to budgets and schedules. In the course of his fifty-year career he directed approximately 250 films and numerous TV shows, ranging from high-profile star vehicles to skid row comedies (such as Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, 1952). Beaudine was canny enough 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 of unmitigated pathos, the camera is riveted to Pickford's face as Annie responds to news of her father's death -- releasing a torrent of tears and woeful expressions of little-girl grief. Few actresses could stand up to such a demanding task, but Pickford does so with grace and power. The painfully prolonged close-up becomes the emotional core of Little Annie Rooney, and reminds viewers of the remarkable acting talent possessed by Pickford, a genuine mastery of the art that might easily be overlooked amid 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 right boys, get out the rubber boots, Mary has got to cry!" After Pickford got back into character, the shoot was interrupted by Rudolph Valentino, who appeared on the set for an unexpected visit. "At any other time his presence would have been thrilling and welcome," Pickford later wrote in her autobiography Sunshine and Shadow, "but that afternoon it threw me emotionally off balance. It took me hours to get back into the mood of the tragedy of that little girl of twelve. Had it been make-believe and nothing more, I could have turned it on and off at will. But I really was that bereaved little orphan."
Pickford may have tapped into a vein of stress that was running deep through her own life at the time. Police had uncovered a plot to kidnap the actress, but could not arrest the culprits until they actually attempted to abduct her. Watched by a bodyguard, often accompanied by police escort, sometimes employing a decoy "double," the actress was required to maintain her usual acting/producing schedule while always wondering when the kidnappers might strike. Eventually the men were apprehended and sentenced to ten to fifty years at San Quentin prison.
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
Little Annie Rooney
Although the plot of the 1942 United Artists release Miss Annie Rooney, directed by Edwin L. Marin and starring Shirley Temple and George Murphy, bears some resemblance to Little Annie Rooney, they are otherwise unrelated. (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50).