Directed by Edwin S. Porter (of The Great Train Robbery fame), the 1914 version of Tess of the Storm Country is both technically primitive and thematically saccharine. However, this shamelessly manipulative melodrama about a bratty waif who manages to save her father from prison and to marry a rich, good-looking guy boasts a solid comic performance by Mary Pickford, at the time probably the most popular film performer in the world. Pickford is so good, in fact, that she succeeds in making the maudlin material at worst bearable and at best quite affecting.
The film’s leading man, Harold Lockwood, was a popular star in the 1910s. His promising career was cut short by the Spanish influenza epidemic. He died in Oct. 1918 at the age of 33.
As a result of the film industry’s rapid technological progress – and the fact that most movies were forgotten shortly after their (usually) brief run – Pickford herself would remake Tess of the Storm Country a mere eight years later. Ironically, the smoother 1922 Tess is considerably phonier (and duller) than the earlier version, partly because of its very technical proficiency (the creakiness of the 1914 film perfectly matches the story’s quaintness), and partly because Pickford’s gamine-playing had by then become more than a tad too mechanical.
Janet Gaynor starred in an unwatchable Fox remake in 1932, while Diane Baker played Tess in a little-seen 1960 film.
Tess of the Storm Country (1914). Dir.: Edwin S. Porter. Scr.: B. P. Schulberg; from Grace Miller White’s novel. Cast: Mary Pickford, Harold Lockwood, Olive Carey (as Olive Golden), David Hartford, Louise Dunlap.