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The Mollycoddle: Douglas Fairbanks Surprisingly Effective Comic Showcase

The Mollycoddle Douglas Fairbanks
The Mollycoddle with Douglas Fairbanks as the title character.

Douglas Fairbanks is ‘The Mollycoddle’ for pre-‘Gone with the Wind’ director Victor Fleming

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Douglas Fairbanks has the title role in the 1920 movie The Mollycoddle. Now, what is (or was) a “mollycoddle”? As we learn in this Victor Fleming-directed comedy, a “mollycoddle” – at least in this particular case – is an American who adopts decadently effete European ways. That is, until fate forces him to remember his red-white-and-blue he-manliness. (Image: A monocled Douglas Fairbanks in The Mollycoddle.)

Once back to his all-American roots, the daring, fearless, and monocle-less Douglas Fairbanks vanquishes the villainous Wallace Beery and conquers the heart of The Mollycoddle‘s heroine, minor leading lady Ruth Renick.

‘The Mollycoddle’: Modest comedy more entertaining than Douglas Fairbanks’ action movies

Although the modestly aimed The Mollycoddle is now all but forgotten, I actually find it wittier, more entertaining, and less dated than Douglas Fairbanks’ big-budget action movies of the ’20s. Whereas The Mark of Zorro, The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, Don Q Son of Zorro, The Black Pirate, The Iron Mask, and even The Thief of Bagdad overstay their welcome, the fast-paced, breezily directed The Mollycoddle knows exactly when and where to stop. Fairbanks himself is at his very best, more naturally at ease as a light comedian than as a bouncing, wildly gesticulating, ever-grinning athlete.

I should mention that The Mollycoddle was Victor Fleming’s second film as a director. A former cinematographer on several Douglas Fairbanks star vehicles (e.g., His Majesty, the American, The Half-Breed), Fleming had directed Fairbanks the previous year in the comedy When the Clouds Roll By. In the ’30s, he would become a top MGM filmmaker, handling the Clark Gable / Jean Harlow pairing Red Dust, The Wizard of Oz, and Gone with the Wind.

The Mollycoddle (1920). Director: Victor Fleming. Screenplay: Douglas Fairbanks and “scenario editor” Thomas J. Geraghty; from a short story by Harold McGrath. Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Ruth Renick, Wallace Beery, Paul Burns, Morris Hughes, George Stewart, Lewis Hippe, Adele Farrington, Betty Bouton, Charles Stevens, Albert MacQuarrie, Bull Montana, Frank Campeau.

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