Behind the Scenes

The title connotes the life of the stage. Mary Pickford is a chorus girl at the Marlowe Theatre in New York City.

A man comes into a fortune, he and his friend celebrate at the Marlowe, where during the festivities (it might be New Year’s Eve) he’s knocked in the eye by a party streamer. The girl, Dolly Lane, apologizes and makes amends. Terse titles indicate “Courtship” and “Marriage” in the following scenes.

Dolly is now Mrs. Steve Hunter. They cut the cake at friend Teddy’s Central Park apartment. It takes a long time for her to cut a slice, and then she drops it beside the plate. Steve is informed that he’s lost his money.

Husband and wife walk in the park, where she finds another couple asleep with their waking infant. Dolly and Steve play with the child, and make the acquaintance of the parents when they rise.

Dolly loses her position at the Marlowe after being accosted backstage by a drunken admirer. Steve’s uncle, who has professed to have no interest in his misfortune and marriage, collapses on his farm. Dying, he restores Steve to his good graces, and wills the property to him.

Thanks to the intervention of Teddy and the stage manager, Dolly regains her place in the chorus line. Steve paints a picture of life on the farm, feeding the chickens, hobnobbing with grandchildren, which she sees in her mind’s eye.

The reality of this Western farmstead is terribly dull. Steve reads the paper at the table, falls asleep in his easy chair. Dolly is crazed with despair.

Back at the Marlowe, she is offered the leading role when the star twists her ankle. It’s a grand success, her leading man dressed like Robin Hood congratulates her, the manager offers his felicitations in her dressing room, locking the door behind him.

Steve and Teddy knock just in time. Dolly hides the manager behind a curtain, where Steve finds him. Disconsolate, the husband goes home.

Dolly resolves, however, to join him on the farm, settling herself in nature and honesty, which are hallmarks of the performances given by the cast. James Kirkwood (Steve) and Lowell Sherman (Teddy) are extremely fine actors who give complete renditions of their roles. Kirkwood in the leading part has a carefully arranged development complementing Pickford’s fireworks. She is a comedienne of artful eyes (even with one eye alone peeking out), some temperament and a relaxed attention to dramatic scenes.

The direction is equally good. The tinting is essentially on the model of pale yellow for interiors, pale blue for exteriors. The camera is as motionless as Wyler’s for long static takes in which a scene develops, the editing is varied. A continuous stream of letters and telegrams, with the occasional phone call, moves the action without a great many title cards.

Even projected at the wrong speed, accompanied by the village pianist and introduced by the village idiot, an eminently enjoyable film.