August 6, 2018  (Web Review)

Little Orphant Annie

Eric Grayson Restorations, 57 min., not rated, Blu-ray/DVD Combo: $25

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

Colleen Moore emerged as one of the biggest stars of the silent era when she bobbed her hair and became the most innocent flapper on the silver screen in the 1920s. Little Orphant Annie, a 1918 movie based on the popular poem by James Whitcomb Riley, is the earliest surviving Moore film, and it presents the actress in a very different role. Annie is a resilient young orphan who endures poverty and a cruel aunt and uncle, but brightens up when she captivates the young children of an orphanage with her moral lessons snuck into fantastical folk tales. With long, curly hair and a gingham dress, Moore plays this 19th-century Midwest Cinderella in the mode of Mary Pickford, with the same pluck but her own brand of wide-eyed generosity and empathy. Director Colin Campbell employs inventive special effects to illustrate her tales of witches and goblins who torment bad little children, and the intertitles are written in a folksy rural dialect exemplified in the recurring line: “And the Gobble-uns ‘ll gits you ef you don’t watch out.” Archival footage of real-life poet Riley reading to a group of children frames this simple slice of Americana featuring a lovely performance by Moore. Featuring an original piano score by Ben Model, extras include audio commentary tracks (one by Colleen Moore biographer Jeff Codori, the other by restorationist Eric Grayson and historian Glory-June Greiff), a featurette on the restoration, a reading of Riley’s work, and a booklet. A strong optional purchase. (S. Axmaker)