Fun Size Review: The Little American (1917)

Mary Pickford and Cecil B. DeMille combine forces to make war look like a righteous crusade to save the World’s Sweetheart from the slavering Huns. Uses every propaganda trick in the book and even helps write the book.

Hampered by thin characters and some pretty bad performances, particularly from Jack Holt, who was severely miscast as a German-American fighting his German blood. (I can’t believe I need to type this but there were no Nazis in WWI. Trust me, this has come up.) Pickford does what she can but there are limits. Everyone involved deserves better.

How does it end? Hover or tap below for a spoiler.
Jack dumps Deutschland for Mary and ends up interned with his lady love fussing over him.

Read my full-length review here.

If it were a dessert it would be: Candy Cigarettes. Seemed like a cute idea at the time but was possibly harmful and definitely antiquated.

Availability: Released on DVD.

***

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11 Replies to “Fun Size Review: The Little American (1917)”

  1. “I can’t believe I need to type this but there were no Nazis in WWI. Trust me, this has come up.”

    The Germans in “Wonder Woman” (2017) were depicted as evil Huns and basically as Nazis. It was probably the first movie since 1918 to depict WWI as a glorious crusade.

  2. In contrast to “Dunkirk,” where the Nazis were only referred to as “the enemy,” as if the filmmakers were afraid of offending German audiences.

    1. The horrible propaganda of WWI was also used as a reason not to condemn Nazis; it was a constant theme in Lillian Gish’s pro-fascism work leading up to WWII. And Breen was well and truly in the pocket of Germany, demanding references to Jewishness about the DREYFUS AFFAIR be removed. (Warner got one in anyway.)

    1. Actually, it is well-documented that JOSEPH BREEN, noted anti-Semite, was accomodating to the Nazis and pressured the studios to bow to his will. Ben Urwand’s research, to be polite, stinks and I will be tearing his book to shreds with great glee soon.

  3. The thing about the Little American is that it written just before the US entered the war and it started shooting just one week after the declaration of war. This presumably is the reason for the stuff about American neutrality and how German-Americans can learn the errors of their ancestral land.

    I was able to see the other DeMille-Macpherson WWI picture Till I Come Back to You and there is none of that. “G. Butler Clonbough” plays a German officer who sends his young Belgian brother-in-law to a German orphange for “obstinate Belgian boys” to teach them German kultur with “long whips and short rations” because he thinks King Albert is a great man. Oh and the Germans like to send orphan children to work in munition factories though this is only briefly seen in a flashback.

    However it is not as lurid of many of the other WWI pictures that I have read about. The ending is weird, I mean it is still heavy handed War propaganda but a different kind of propaganda that emphasises that American soldiers won’t kill children (as opposed to the Germans apparently?) Even if it prevents an American assault, also King Albert is a nice guy and we need to liberate Belgium. That ending strikes me as being very similar to the Story of Dr. Wassell and yes I am aware that is a true story.

    1. You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I do not regularly watch films from this period and that I have not seen more lurid wartime pictures. I find almost all WWI propaganda to be incredibly distasteful (as did many concerned officials of the time), just because this film doesn’t feature assertive taxidermy or biting off nurses’ uniforms does not mean it gets let off the hook. Further, DeMille kept up the anti-German sentiment after the war, when most of his contemporaries abandoned such fare. For example, he produced Her Man O’ War, which could be mistaken for a picture of 1917.

  4. I’ve never read Urwand’s book. I seem to recall Farran Nehme (the Self-Styled Siren) debunking it a few years ago.

    One good book I read on this subject was Thomas Doherty’s “Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939.”

  5. Sorry but I was speaking of my own personal expectations not suggesting that you haven’t seen lurid war propaganda of that time. When I read the plot synopsis of stuff like The Prussian Cur anything less seems almost pacifistic!

    I wasn’t trying to let anyone off the hook either. The ending of Till I Come Back To You just felt weird to me but then again MacPherson did write it. Oh and Wallace Beery is one of the officers at the Court Martial.

    I don’t doubt DeMille’s support for both World Wars but he didn’t make many films about either of them which I find interesting. Now past wars or his independent company is another matter…

    1. He definitely was very “Rah rah, over there!” for WWI and did have a friend who died on the Lusitania, so it’s not entirely surprising that he would go so deeply in for at least one propaganda picture.

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