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Tessibel Skinner is a young woman in a squatter village on the coast, where she lives with her father, a local fisherman. Towering above the village is the estate of Elias Graves, a wealthy man who hopes to use his influence to remove these squatters from his land. When his lawyer is unable to so directly, he instead enacts a ban on net fishing, removing the livelihoods of many people in the village, including Tess and her father.

pickford posterDespite the ban, some continue to fish illegally, though they are soon confronted by men sent by Graves. In this confrontation, one of Graves’ men is shot and killed. Tess’ father is wrongfully accused of the murder and arrested. Meanwhile, through these altercations Tess meets Frederick Graves, Elias’ son, who is home on a break from his theological studies. Before long, the two begin a forbidden romance. Also on break with Frederick is Dan Jordan, a friend from his fraternity, who simultaneously falls in love with Frederick’s sister, Teola.

Soon after Dan and Frederick return to college, Teola learns that she is pregnant and struggles to decide if she should tell Dan. Her decision is made for her soon enough, as she receives a letter informing her that Dan has died heroically in a fire at the fraternity. Unable to confide in her very stern father, Teola is distraught and turns to Tess for support. Once the baby is born, Tess agrees to take the child and bear the social stigma of having a child out of wedlock.

Upon his return, Frederick is forced to shun Tess for her sin despite his remaining love for her. Soon, however, Teola’s baby falls ill and Tess decides to take him up to Elias’ church to be baptized. Disgusted by Tess and the child, Elias refuses, shaming them publicly. Teola, having witnessed her father’s anger, decides to step forward and admit the truth about her child. Tess is forgiven and it is decided that Teola will die with her son. Meanwhile, the true murderer is found, allowing Tess’ father to be released from prison.

Director: Edwin S. Porter
Cast: Mary Pickford, Harold Lockwood, Olive Carey (as Olive Golden), David Hartford, Louise Dunlap
Running time: 80 m
Genre: Drama, Romance

by Andre Soares

Directed by Edwin S. Porter (of The Great Train Robbery fame), the 1914 version of Tess of the Storm Country is both technically primitive and thematically saccharine. However, this shamelessly manipulative melodrama about a bratty waif who manages to save her father from prison and to marry a rich, good-looking guy boasts a solid comic performance by Mary Pickford, at the time probably the most popular film performer in the world. pickfordPickford is so good, in fact, that she succeeds in making the maudlin material at worst bearable and at best quite affecting.

The film’s leading man, Harold Lockwood, was a popular star in the 1910s. His promising career was cut short by the Spanish influenza epidemic. He died in Oct. 1918 at the age of 33.

As a result of the film industry’s rapid technological progress – and the fact that most movies were forgotten shortly after their (usually) brief run – Pickford herself would remake Tess of the Storm Country a mere eight years later. Ironically, the smoother 1922 Tess is considerably phonier (and duller) than the earlier version, partly because of its very technical proficiency (the creakiness of the 1914 film perfectly matches the story’s quaintness), and partly because Pickford’s gamine-playing had by then become more than a tad too mechanical.

Janet Gaynor starred in an unwatchable Fox remake in 1932, while Diane Baker played Tess in a little-seen 1960 film.