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Film / Tess of the Storm Country

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Tess of the Storm Country is a 1914 film starring Mary Pickford, directed by Edwin S. Porter.

Squire Elias Graves is a wealthy aristocrat who owns a home on a cliff overlooking a lake. Some desperately poor squatters live on the lakeshore, and for no particular reason Squire Graves seeks to clear them out. First he seeks to evict them, and then, when the squatters' lawyer points out that they have the legal right to live there, he confiscates their fishing nets. Pickford plays the eponymous Tess, who rallies her friends and neighbors in the squatter village to fight against Squire Graves. At the same time, she is falling in love with the Squire's handsome young son Frederick. If that isn't complicated enough, Tess's father is accused of a murder he didn't commit, and Frederick's sister Teola has a secret.

Tess of the Storm Country is the oldest Pickford feature film to survive. Porter, the director, was a pioneer of early cinema who directed The Great Train Robbery way back in 1903. However, by 1914 the movies had passed him by and Tess of the Storm Country looks creaky and old-fashioned even by 1914 standards. Pickford would later say that "he knew nothing about directing. Nothing." That didn't stop Tess of the Storm Country from being a big success and helping to cement Pickford as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Pickford made this film again in 1922; it was the only remake she ever made.


  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Squire Graves has no discernible motive for trying to drive out the poor people who live at the foot of his cliff, other than maybe disliking them for spoiling his view.
  • Better Manhandle the Murder Weapon: The squatters have been reduced to poaching. When one of Squire Graves's goons tries to stop them, Ben Letts picks up a shotgun and shoots him to death. Pa Skinner naturally picks up the murder weapon, and is arrested.
  • Caught in the Rain: Both Frederick/Tess and Beta Couple Dan and Teola are caught in a rainstorm. Frederick and Tess take shelter in her shack, but Tess is pure, so she rejects his kiss and they sleep on separate cots. Teola is less pure, and Dan knocks her up.
  • Diabolus ex Machina / The Plot Reaper: Teola is pregnant. But Dan will do the right thing and marry her, right? No, because he was killed in a fire while he and Frederick were away together at college.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: In a lightning quick five minutes or so of resolution at the end. Teola is unable to get away to bring money to Tess for the baby, so the baby starves to death. Tess christens the dying child herself at the church after the minister won't do it, which leads Teola to confess. Meanwhile, Ben's friend Ezra has reported that it was Ben, not Tess's father, who shot Squire Graves's goon. The film ends with a penitent Frederick going back to Tess's shack, delivering a message from his grief-stricken father (Teola killed herself) announcing his Heel–Face Turn. Pa Skinner is freed, Tess and Frederick are reunited, and the squatters get to stay in their homes.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Pa Skinner is coming home to their shack when his daughter Tess, who was sleeping outside, leaps up and jumps on his back. Shortly thereafter she leads the parade of angry squatters to the Graves estate. This establishes her as both a tomboy and a fearless leader.
  • The Film of the Book: A novel by Grace Miller White.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The use of title cards to simulate the Funetik Aksent of the uneducated squatters is pretty painful, but never as bad as this bit from Tess's sister, who upbraids villain Ben Letts for not paying attention to their son.
    "Yer ain't never kissed our baby since he cum."
  • High-Class Glass: The lawyer who tries to carry out Squire Graves' eviction order sports one of these.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: Teola apparently was successful in hiding her pregnancy, having kept it a secret until she leaves for Tess's shack right before she delivers.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Frederick finds Teola and Tess together in Tess's shack with the baby. He assumes the baby is Tess's, Teola won't confess, and Tess won't break a confidence. So Frederick dumps Tess.
  • Regal Ringlets: The pretty curls that Pickford wore for her whole career (until a desperate effort to change her image in The '30s) are on display here, showing Tess's sweetness and innocence.
  • A Taste of the Lash: As if he weren't already evil enough, Squire Graves whips Tess when he catches her attempting to steal milk for Teola's starving infant.