Stella Maris [1918]

Stars: Mary Pickford, Ida Waterman, Herbert Standing
Genre: Drama
Runtime: 84 minutes

Mary Pickford plays two roles in this film; it is a testament to her phenomenal acting talent that we really see her as two completely different characters. In the title role of Stella Maris, Pickford portrays a lovely young woman, paralyzed from childhood, whose wealthy, aristocratic parents have kept her utterly sheltered from the ugly realities of the outside world. As poor little orphan girl Unity Blake, Pickford is literally unrecognizable. Make-up, hair, and costumes help achieve this remarkable transformation. Stella Maris is radiantly pretty, with bright eyes and lips and flowing curls, decked out in ruffled white frocks. Unity is painfully plain: sallow-skinned and dull-haired, in an orphan's homespun, shapeless shift. But it is Pickford's extraordinary facility with body language--the true sign of a great silent-film actress--that makes each character so distinct and credible. Privileged Stella Maris's movements are always graceful and dainty, whereas Unity stoops and flinches, the victim of a lifetime of want and abuse. Both characters fall in love with the same man, journalist John Risca (Conway Tearle), who is married to the abusive drunkard Louisa (Marcia Manon, who fairly oozes wickedness). John loves the comely Stella Maris, but "he can never be free as long as that woman [his wife] is alive." An ingenious plot twist takes care of that problem while neatly resolving the question of which Pickford character "gets the guy": Stella Maris, the wealthy and beautiful, or Unity Blake, the humble and homely. --Laura Mirsky

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