falderal : a moving images blog
Johanna Enlists ; 1918  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Director: William Desmond Taylor
Actors: Mary Pickford, Anne Schaefer, Fred Huntley, Monte Blue, Douglas MacLean, Emory Johnson, John Steppling, Wallace Beery, Wesley Barry
Country: U.S.A.

Johanna Enlists is a cute film to watch and I enjoyed it very much but it was also a film that made me all too aware of the role women play in American society. It made me realize how little things have changed, despite the feminist revolution, from the 1910s until now.

In this movie, Mary Pickford plays Johanna, a country girl who is seen as ugly but she dreams of having a beau. After being upset after finding out that her crush is married with children, she prays to God to send her a beau… and Johanna ends up getting the American army. This leads to Johanna having crushes on a few men and she learns from magazines, newspapers, and books on how to be a lady. This leads to one of those transformations where the girl suddenly becomes hot after she does her hair differently and wears different clothes (similar to how current movies use glasses to make the girl ugly and the girl becomes attractive after she takes them off) and I was a bit surprised to see such a movie trope being used even back in the days. I loved how Pickford’s hair was used as the turning point for Johanna’s transformation because Pickford’s curls were so famous. I love seeing her hair having importance in her movies’ plots. I guess some things just don’t change. After Johanna makes a transformation, men become attracted to her and she has a slew of admirers with three in particular. This leads to a little trouble and in the end, Johanna gets a beau.

The ending is very old-fashioned for current viewers and despite being aware that things were different back in the days, I still find it a little weird when people use the explanation of, “We’re the same kind” to get the girl. Another movie example that I can think of at the top of my head is Ashley’s reason for getting married to Melanie in Gone with the Wind (1939).

Even though it is off-putting that a girl goes through so much trouble to get a guy, what I love about Pickford films is that she works with the system to get her way. In the paper that I wrote during my final semester in college, I wrote about how Pickford subverted society’s expectations of females, and I think that this movie is a perfect example of doing so. Sure, Johanna goes through a lot of trouble trying to get the guy (and I enjoyed her trying to change her looks and behaviour, especially dancing à la Isadora Duncan) but it is her scheming to get the men and the males in this movie are flat and are like toys controlled by Johanna. I love it when I see Pickford acting in a coquette-ish behaviour because it becomes another example as to how she wasn’t always portraying innocent characters and how wide her range was.

Another thing that I found highly enjoyable in this film were the effects used in regards to images + texts (ref. Picture 2). I always like seeing these in silent movies and these days, we don’t really see much of it outside of Quentin Tarantino’s films. I had a good chuckle when I saw “Solid Ivory” next to Pa Renssaller (Huntley). There are also some great intertitles in this film, which had me in stitches. A personal favourite was one that said, “Oh, Lordy — when I prayed for a man — WHY did you send me a thousand?”

Pickford was wonderful as an actress in this movie and I loved how there was nothing beneath her to get the desired comedic effect. One of my favourite moments was when she had a clothes pin on her nose because I couldn’t help but think that she was adorable (ref. Picture 3). After getting to know more about Pickford, I am surprised that she is known for playing “little girl roles” rather than being known as a comedienne. She’s wonderful in comedic and dramatic roles and it’s a shame that people aren’t giving her more credit for her acting talent.

I should really get going with a Pickford marathon as well. So many marathons to do and so little time (erm… patience, hahaha. Who am I fooling?)

IMDb Link: Johanna Enlists

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