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Film / The Poor Little Rich Girl

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The Poor Little Rich Girl is a 1917 film directed by Maurice Tourneur and featuring one of the biggest movie stars of her day, "America's Sweetheart", Mary Pickford. Here Pickford plays Gwendolyn, the neglected 11-year-old daughter of a high-society couple. The father is too busy trading stocks and the mother is busy improving her social standing, and neither of them pay attention to their little girl. Gwen is left to the care of the servants, who are quite mean and seem to delight in tormenting her. In return she acts out, one time throwing her fancy dresses into the street and another time wrecking a bathroom sink. Nothing succeeds in getting her parents to spend some time with her—that is, not until an abusive maid gives Gwen an overdose of a sleeping drug.

The Poor Little Rich Girl was a smash hit and maintained Pickford's status as a huge movie star, probably the biggest of her day (her friend Charlie Chaplin was her only real competition). It was one of the first of the Dawson Casting roles that she would later become strongly associated with (Pickford was 24 when the film was released). It was selected to the National Film Registry as typical of Pickford's work.

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It's also very, very Anvilicious—pay attention to your kids, people!

It was later remade with Shirley Temple as "Poor Little Rich Girl" (without the "The").


Tropes:

  • Adventures in Comaland: After the maid gives Gwen the overdose, Gwen slips into a long dream sequence in which the people she knows manifest themselves in odd ways. For example, the bitchy maid and kindly butler call each other "a silly ass" and "two-faced" respectively, so the maid shows up in the dream having literally two faces and the butler is dressed up as a donkey. Eventually she meets The Grim Reaper—interestingly, here portrayed as a woman—who promises her "eternal sleep". Gwen nearly takes her up on it until a playful fairy spirit who seems to be the Grim Reaper's Good Counterpart lures Gwen back to life. She then wakes up.
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  • Broken Glass Penalty: The neighborhood kids hit a baseball through the glass of Gwen's familiy's greenhouse. They go to retrieve it and wind up having a mud fight with Gwen.
  • Closed Door Rapport: Another society lady brings her daughter around to play with Gwen, but it goes bad when Gwen and the other girl take an instant dislike to each other. The scene ends with Gwen locking herself in her room and saying "I hate her, I hate her, I hate her".
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: When Gwen is caught having a mud fight with boys, she is forced to wear boy's clothes for the rest of the day.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: "Wuxtra! Wuxtra! Panic in Wall St.!" Exposition indicating that the father's stock market position is suffering.
  • Forced Perspective: Pickford was just a hair over five feet tall. To make her look even smaller, they used forced perspective with the other actors, and also built some over-sized furniture and other props.
  • Fun with Subtitles: In the scene where Gwen is locked in her room yelling "I hate her, I hate her", the words "I HATE HER" are actually shown coming through the keyhole.
  • The Grim Reaper: See Adventures in Comaland above.
  • Imagine Spot: Gwen is prone to these. When someone calls the bitchy maid a "snake in the grass", Gwen visualizes the maid in costume as a snake, in the grass.
  • Impairment Shot: When Gwen is staggering down the stairs after being overdosed with a sleeping drug, the camera shot starts tilting sharply to right and left.
  • Jerkass: Literally all the servants torment Gwen. Also they pull a Karma Houdini, since they never get called out for this.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Played completely straight, with Gwen shut up in her parents' mansion, not allowed to go out and play with the commoners. She can't even watch the local kids play, as the bitchy maid pulls down the blinds when she does.
  • Organ Grinder: Sans monkey, in this instance. A lonely Gwen hears him playing outside and brings him into the mansion. The servants, naturally, go nuts.
  • Parental Neglect: Both parents are so involved in their own lives, they hardly notice their daughter.
  • Regal Ringlets: Mary Pickford's standard hairstyle, as usual signifying her sweetness and innocence.
  • Sadist Teacher: Gwen's home tutors.
  • Spoiled Brat: The socialite's daughter Gwen is forced to play with. Averted with Gwen herself.
  • Title Drop: Gwen is called "the poor little rich girl" several times in the title cards. Weirdly, both the neighborhood kids and Gwen herself call her that in-universe.
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