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Arcadian Maid, An

D: D.W. Griffith / 16m

Cast: Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, George Nichols, Kate Bruce

An engaging tale of romantic deception, An Arcadian Maid sees Priscilla (Pickford) finding work on a farm run by a farmer (Nichols) and his wife (Bruce). Shortly after, Priscilla is approached by a peddler (Sennett) who pays attention to her before showing his wares to the farmer’s wife. Unable to make a sale, the peddler speaks again to Priscilla. Before he takes his leave he gives her a ring, and declares them betrothed. Later, in town, the peddler loses what money he has in a gambling den. Aware that the farmer and his wife are in possession of a large sum of money, and determined to clear his gambling debts, the peddler persuades Priscilla to steal the money for him.

An Arcadian Maid was one of 96 short films D.W. Griffith made in 1910 – that’s one movie nearly every four days – and it plays simply and effectively. Pickford may throw her arms in the air a few times to show agitation, and Sennett play with the ends of his moustache a little too often, but this is a pretty straightforward tale of petty larceny and shattered romantic dreams. The pleasure to be had from a lot of movies of this period is the very brevity that forced filmmakers to focus on what was necessary and important to the storyline (here the work of Stanner E.V. Taylor); it wouldn’t be unfair to say this is as lean a piece of filmmaking as you’re likely to see under any circumstances. Griffith marshals his cast to good effect, and keeps a tight grip on proceedings.  G.W. Bitzer’s photography is sharp and well-lit (not always the case with movies of this period), while the two leads work well together, lending an air of credibility that, as with the photography, wasn’t always the case.

Arcadian Maid, An - scene

The ending rounds off proceedings satisfactorily, with the villain punished and the heroine redeemed. Griffith’s strengths as a director are in evidence: the affecting nature of the peddler’s wooing of the naive Priscilla; the tension created when Priscilla steals the couples’ money; the peddler’s dramatic comeuppance; and Priscilla’s redemption thanks to the intervention of Fate. Griffith was a very “proper” director, even for the time, and his moral fables were popular; An Arcadian Maid gives a good indication why.

Rating: 8/10 – an involving and rewarding tale that cements Pickford’s rising stardom, and also gives a clue as to why Sennett moved into the production side of things; a small, rarely seen gem that bolsters the importance of the silent short film.