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Film / The Patsy

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Pat does Lillian Gish

The Patsy is a 1928 comedy directed by King Vidor, starring Marion Davies.

Davies is Pat Harrington, daughter of the wealthy Harrington family. Her father loves her, but her domineering mother (played by Marie Dressler) strongly favors her sister Grace, leaving Pat in a semi-Cinderella situation, having to do the chores for both sisters, routinely having to hand over her nicest clothes to Grace.

The rivalry between the sisters has grown even more pitched, as they both are attracted to rich, handsome Tony Anderson. Tony and Grace are dating, with Tony completely unaware of Pat being head-over-heels in love with him. Ma Harrington is aware, however, and is determined to keep Pat away from Tony. The situation is complicated when charming playboy Billy Caldwell meets Jane and is instantly attracted to her.


This film is probably best remembered for the sequence where Davies, who had a talent for mimicry, does killer impressions of silent film stars Mae Murray, Lillian Gish, and Pola Negri in rapid succession.


  • Big "SHUT UP!": At the climax, Ma Harrington's constant screaming about Pat leads Pa Harrington to shout "SHUT UP!" He then states in no uncertain terms that Ma will stop picking on Pat.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Billy, pretending to be a fancy waiter, asks Ma "Viens-tu de la campangne, grande vache?"note  Immediately subverted when Pat starts cackling and says "He said something about a fat cow!"
  • Establishing Character Moment: Billy Caldwell comes zipping up to the yacht club in his own yacht. He enters the Yacht Club dinner and sees Grace. Instantly enchanted, he grabs a waiter's jacket and pretends to be a waiter, charming Grace while mocking and insulting her mother. Billy is established as a madcap playboy.
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  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: When Ma and Grace are badgering her, Grace busts out with "I don't give a whoopin' darn!". Her mother and sister are shocked.
  • Grammar Nazi: Part of Ma Harrington's harassment of Pa Harrington manifests itself with her repeatedly criticizing his use of "ain't".
  • Henpecked Husband: Pa Harrington is constantly criticized and browbeaten by Ma.
    "I've had a pain in the neck ever since we married.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    Ma Harrington: Don't say ain't.
    Pa Harrington: I've said ain't for twenty-five years.
    Ma Harrington: That ain't so!
  • Longing Look: Pat has a habit of staring at Tony with her big blue eyes in an obvious look of love. Tony never notices, but Ma does, and berates Pat for "mooning" at Tony.
  • Oblivious to Love: Poor Tony has no clue that Pat is besotted with him. When she tells him "I'm in love with a man who hardly knows I exist," he cluelessly offers her advice on how to attract the mystery man.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: One of the jokes Pat tells when she's trying to make herself over as more outgoing in order to attract Tony.
    "All the world's a stage but most of us are only stagehands."
  • Sibling Triangle: Grace and Pat, both after Tony. While Tony only has eyes for Grace, Pat loves him from afar.
  • The Unfavorite: For no clear reason, Ma Harrington greatly favors Grace over Pat. She makes Pat do the chores. She makes Pat give Grace her fine coat when it's time for dinner at the Yacht Club. She makes Pat walk behind the rest of the family when going to dinner. She is determined to not let Pat come between Grace and Tony.