Sunday, September 13, 2020

Blood and Sand (USA, 1922)

This film was based on the 1909 Spanish novel Sangre y arena (Blood and Sand) by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and the play version of the book by Thomas Cushing. It was produced by Paramount Pictures. Rudolph Valentino was already a heartthrob and very popular among the audiences after the hits of The Sheik and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, in 1921. The latter film was also an adaptation of Vicente Blasco Ibáñez’s book. 

Rudolph Valentino played the role of Juan Gallardo, a bullfighter born in a poor family in a village located in Seville, Spain. He was a relaxed and charismatic lad who enjoyed a life of adventure. His mother was a widow who worried about the safety of Juan due to the fact he played at bullfighting. Juan Gallardo was considered a good-for-nothing son due to his failure to work at his father’s trade and his family strongly disapproved of his lifestyle.

After two years, Juan Gallardo became the idol of the entire Spain, being known even in Madrid. He had many fans who gathered themselves only to see him. It was also clear that he was already a quite wealthy man at this point. 

Then his luck changed and, as it was said in one of the intertitles: “The news of the “Little Shoemaker’s” prowess spread through Seville, attracting the wealthy patrons of the national sport”. His bravery in the arena became a sensation among the local population, which catapulted him into fame. Even Juan’s brother in law, who could not stand him and did not believe his capabilities, started to act in a friendly way towards Juan after he became famous. 

However, success can sometimes spoil people and bring them temptations that are hard to resist. Juan became the idol of the Seville cafés and ended up living a bohemian life around many women and drinking heavily. That was the beginning of Juan Gallardo losing his focus in life.

At his point, Gallardo had already married the beautiful and virtuous Carmen,  “the playmate of his childhood”. Then the sensuous and wealthy Doña Sol (played by actress Nita Naldi) enters Gallardo’s life. She was the niece of the Marquis of Moraima, “breeder of the finest bulls in Spain” and widow of an ambassador and quite popular among kings and diplomats of Europe for her beauty. At first Gallardo tried to resist to Doña Sol’s interest in him, but they ended up having an affair, which would jeopardize Gallardo both socially and professionally while Carmen knew about the affair through the newspapers. And she suffered as the virtuous woman she was. In silence, always devoted, without complaints. At the same timed Gallardo’s friends have noticed that he changed and seemed out of focus and worried.

Once more we see in a silent film a woman being portrayed as a “vamp”, the woman who represented temptation and could ruin lives of honest men with her seducing powers. This includes the famous mention to sadomasochism, which was rather daring for the era and Doña Sol being called “serpent from hell” in one of intertitles when Gallardo was divided between the love-hate feelings and he could no longer have control over his own emotions.

Knowing that Gallardo was trying to drift away from her, Doña Sol followed him to his home village. She was not being used to be rejected and she brought many problems to Gallardo by imposing her presence and tension reached the point when Doña Sol told about her affair with Gallardo to his wife and mother, which had apparently destroyed his marriage. It was the beginning of the end of Gallardo’s peace even within his own household.

Gallardo got more and more depressed and it reflected on his performance in the arena. He was no longer as careful with his well being as before and he became “the gossip of Spain”. A good bullfighter needed to be concentrated all the time due to the danger of his profession and this was definitely a bad sign. One day Gallardo received a letter from Carmen asking him to give up the arena, but it was his profession, he had no savings and if he quit bullfighting at that point he would certainly return to poverty. Carmen sensed that Gallardo was in danger and it would turn out to be a prophecy. This only showed that the connection between Gallardo and Carmen was so pure, so deep that they could communicate with each other even without words. Something so different from his connection with Doña Sol, which have never been beyond physical attraction deprived of further feelings.

Another bullfighting, Doña Sol was in the audience, Gallardo was distressed and quiet, there was tension in the air. Other bullfighters and even audience members noticed that Gallardo was more reckless than ever. And right in the middle of the audience the village’s bandit was shot, he mentioned Gallardo and passed away immediately. At the same time, Gallardo had a feeling of terror, did not know what to do and lost confidence. He was hit by a bull, fell down and was removed from the arena. Doña Sol did not even notice what was going on amid her own selfishness and superficiality. She was directly told that Gallardo was dying but did not care and did not even care to leave the audience and see Gallardo or comfort his relatives. On the other hand, Carmen was by his side all the time until the end with the devotion that only a virtuous woman could have for her husband. 

A priest was called. In Gallardo’s last moments, he ask for Carmen’s forgiveness and they reconciled.  Gallardo passed away in a very sad circumstance but at least in peace with his sweet wife Carmen, the only woman he has truly ever loved.

The plot has the expected melodrama with occasional overacting (especially by Valentino and Nita Naldi in their most torrid scenes) and some stereotyped representations of other peoples. However, it remains interesting in the sense that it was critical of bullfighting and the rise and downfall of the main character (Gallardo, played by Valentino) gives him a degree of humanity that does not really age easily.  We still can see so often that a poor man’s way up to climb the social ladder is choosing a profession where he will face death and this can have some sad consequences sometimes.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Conquering Power (USA, 1921)

This film was made a short time after huge Rudolph Valentino’s hit, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (USA, 1921) and it was the second and last collaboration of Valentino and Rex Ingram, the latter would subsequently direct Ramon Novarro’s films.  The Conquering Power (USA, 1921) was based on the novel Eugénie Grandet by Honoré de Balzac. The plot is about the conquering power of love, and all barriers it is capable to overcome, plus the maturity of a man from boyhood to adulthood due to adversities of life. It is also portrayed how the effects of greed can be harmful to a person.

Valentino plays the role of Charles Grandet, a French playboy who lived a careless life and all worldly pleasures to the full, as it can be seen by his lavish birthday party in the beginning of the film, which was interrupted by the earlier return of Victor Grandet, his father, from a trip. Upon his return, Victor had a serious conversation with Charles about his brother, Père Grandet, who he had not seen for around twenty five years and recommended Charles to be on friendly terms with him. Victor seemed to be rather distressed and it is hinted that he had serious financial problems.

Victor had committed suicide a short time afterwards and after his death, Charles ended up living with his uncle. Père Grandet, despite of being rich himself, he was a miserly, who treated both the poorer people from his province and his own family with an iron fist. At the house of his uncle Charles met and fell in love with his cousin, Eugenie Grandet. Eugenie was a virtuous, beautiful and sweet girl, quite in demand by the suitors of her village. 

Charles brought to his uncle’s house a letter by Victor, who claimed that he had lost his fortune due to stock market speculation and he hoped that Père would be a father for his son. The tone if this letter suggested that Victor would die soon, which actually happened and this tragic event left Charles penniless. 

While love flourished between both cousins, Père received a letter stating that Victor’s debts had been reduced and it meant that Charles has not lost all his money, after all. To avoid that Charles recovered his money and that his love for Eugenie took root, Père decided to send Charles away for the Martinique. However, before Charles’ departure, Père made him sign a document renouncing to all his inheritance, something that Charles found strange as his father had left no estate. Despite that suspicious signal, Charles did not realize that Père could have been behind any scam to take advantage of him.

While Charles was away he wrote to Eugenie regularly, telling her about his life in Martinique, that he was prospering there, etc. Nevertheless, his letters never came to her because Père  was hiding everything and it made Eugenie think that Charles had forgotten about her. On the other hand, Père had written Charles claiming that he had arranged a marriage for Eugenie and therefore it would be advisable he did not keep any further correspondence with her. The claim was a lie and there was no marriage, but Charles could not possibly know. But both Charles and Eugenie never forgot each other.

One day Père asked Eugenie to see her gold because he wanted to invest it, but she could not give it to him because Eugenie had lent it to Charles previously, so he could have some money to restart his life. When Père realized Eugenie had given her gold to Charles, he locked her in her bedroom and it was when the worst ordeal of Eugenie began. However, the news of Eugenie’s imprisonment in her room became the topic of the village and the villagers have also noticed how maddened Père was. 

Some scenes later it is revealed to the audience that Eugenie was not actually Père’s daughter and that  Eugenie actually had the right of demanding a division of his fortune if only she knew the truth. 

Speaking of the truth, Eugenie eventually found out Charles’ letters to her hidden in her own house, none of them had ever been given to her. She also found the letter that stated that Victor’s debts were reduced and that Charles was not penniless, after all. The same letter that had never been disclosed to Charles, who left to Martinica thinking his father had not left any estate. 

Père found out that Eugenie found the letters. She runs away and he gets locked in his cellar, totally maddened by his own greed and evilness. This is one of the most famous scenes of the film, beautifully played and acted by actor Ralph Lewis (who played the role of Père in a convincing and skillful way) and the favorite scene of many people. Right afterwards Père passed away, leaving Eugenie a very rich woman and it was suggested to her to look for a husband. She announces her engagement, but shortly after is reunited with Charles.

My personal favorite part of the film is the end, when after some years Charles returned from France, now a very rich man and they both met each other again in the same place where they used to gather together in the past, this time older and with different appearances. However, the love and joy in seeing each other was still the same. Their facial expressions of happiness were something very touching to see, as they show that love was the real conquering power, even beyond the action of gold and time. Charles did not come to the village before thinking that Eugenie was married, but she was actually still single and it was when they were finally reunited.

Cobra (USA,1925)

I have always personally believed that, despite occasional typecasting and overacting in some films, Italian actor Rudolph Valentino’s acting skills did shine bright in his more romantically-oriented films. Unfortunately his acting ended up overshadowed by his heartthrob reputation and the tragic consequences of his death, with only 31 years old in 1926. 

Valentino plays the impoverished Italian nobleman, Count Rodrigo Torriani, a philanderer who was often in the company of beautiful women. In the beginning of the film he befriended an American tourist (Jack Dorning) and, as he had shown a deep understanding of antiquities during their talks, Dorning invited Torriani to work with him in New York, as an antiques export. The proposal was gladly accepted. 

A short time after arriving in New York, Torriani realized that he would not really get rid of his weakness for beautiful women. He fell genuinely and purely in love with Dorning's secretary Mary Drake, but she did not return his interest, which was an irony because it was the first time Torriani has ever loved a woman. 

On the other hand, he has also met Elise, a gold digger, who was looking for a rich husband. Elise was immediately interested in Torriani, thinking he was rich, but Torriani had no interest in her whatsoeverf. When Torriani told her that all the money actually belonged to Dorning, she directed her attention to him even though she had never forgotten Torriani. Having realized that Dorning was interested in Elise, Torriani encouraged him to have a relationship with her, which quickly happened. 

Dorning fell madly in love for Elise and they soon got married. However, after around one year of marriage -although Dorning was still in love and happy – it became clear that Elise was being unfaithful to her husband. To make things worse, Elise started to make advancements to Torriani again, to the point of forcing herself to him in his office. Torriani, in consideration for his friend, resisted her seduction as much as he could but, when she invited him to go to a hotel with her, he ended up accepting her proposal. But, as soon as they arrived at the hotel, Torriani felt guilty of betraying his friend and left the hotel immediately before anything more intimate happened between them both. 

It turned out to be a wise decision because the hotel caught fire that same night, killing both Elise and one of her other lovers (who she called to stay with her in the hotel after Torriani left). The bodies of both people were so severely burned that it was not possible to identify them. After having learned of his wife’s disappearance, Dorning was heartbroken. For a while he could not know where his wife was or if she would ever return. He fell into depression and Torriani took care of him, unable to return what happened at that night at the hotel. He did not dare to make his friend suffer by knowing which kind of woman Elise was.

After a while, while browsing through Elise’s papers, Dorning found letters of some of her lovers to her and he also found out that she was in the habit of frequenting that hotel that caught fire and she was probably one of people who passed away. He also found out a letter of Torriani to Elise, refusing her love. Dorning was proud of his friends loyalty, but it was the moment when Torriani confessed everything that happened that night between him and Elise and that it was him who had taken Elise to the hotel the night she died and that he felt too guilty to remain in the United States and that he would return to Italy. Dorning answered saying it was better if they both forgot what happened and that Torriani could return to Italy to rest, but he asked his friend to return after a while and keep on working with him. 

Torriani indeed returned and it seemed that everything would run smoothly, but it was not what happened. Mary Drake seemed to be finally interested in Torriani, but he was still feeling too guilty about Elise’s death and could not immediately return her interest due to his grief. After a while, he heard that both Mary Drake and Dorning were dating and that Dorning was very happy with her. He talked to Dorning and he confirmed to Torriani to be deeply in love with Mary Drake. 

After having heard of it, Torriani decided to renounce to the only woman he has ever truly loved. He lied to her claiming he was still the same womanizer of always and, feeling guilty and determined not to be on the way of his friend’s happiness for a second time, Torriani left the United States and returned to Italy, this time definitively. 

One year later Valentino passed tragically away and his funeral has caused an unprecedented commotion. His successful career lasted only around five years (from 1921 to 1926). His fate in talkies is only a matter of speculation, as all his films were made during the silent era. Nevertheless, I do believe that if he got to totally avoid typecasting in ethnically-stereotyped films and devoted himself to romantic dramas, it would have solidified his career and make him being more seriously taken by some critics. But unfortunately there was no time for it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Foolish Wives (USA,1922)

Director Eric von Stroheim, despite making long and extravagant films – often having as scenery lands far away – he could also provide fluid, light-hearted plots with touches of humor. He was a competent director, who particularly excelled in fairy tale -like plots with touches of comedy, as in this film.

Stroheim could often have problems with the studios due to overbudgeting and excessively long films and it was not different here. The original printing lasted around eight hours and it was cut by the studio to a more conventional format and it shrank even more throughout the years. Despite having made a name for himself as a skilled director, his multiple clashes with studios made him as of early 1930ies end up being an actor in other people’s films. He did have some noteworthy roles, such as, for instance in Sunset Boulevard (USA, 1950) though. 

In a mansion by the sea in Monte Carlo (according to the first intertitle: “The Villa Amorosa – secluded yet within easy reach of Monte Carlo -leased for the season by three members of the Russian aristocracy”) it lives a man who socially identifies himself as His Excellency Captain Count Wladislaw Sergius Karamzin -but who is merely a poor scoundrel  who seduced and manipulated women in order to obtain financial advantages from them – (a role played by Stroheim himself) is a member of former Russian nobility who is in the habit of seducing rich women in order to obtain financial advantages. He has the assistance of his two “cousins”; "Princess" Vera Petchnikoff and "Her Highness" Olga Petchnikof (both of them partners in crime and possibly his lovers too).

The three of them have an lavish and idle lifestyle, which even included caviar as breakfast, as it can be seen in a scene in the beginning of the film. Stroheim has reportedly requested the studio to purchase real caviar for the sake of realism on camera. Indeed, the breakfast scene – with a table full of sophisticated food in a huge mansion and with a maid to serve them -gives the audiences a good idea of the level of luxury of the “family”. 

Then the group receive the visit of Cesare Ventucci, who supply the group with counterfeit bills which would be passed in the Cassino. Ventucci has a daughter with special necessities called Marietta who he raised by himself after his wife passed away and it becomes clear to the audience that Count Karamzin was developing an interest for the girl.

Being a compulsive womanizer, the count also made advances (and even marriage promises) to Maruschka, the maid. This part of the film ends up irreversibly impacting the film later on.

One day the count heard about the arrival on board of the U.S. Cruiser “Salem” of the Commissioner Plenipotentiary of the United States and his wife, called Helen Hughes. She was a naïve woman, younger than her husband (she was 21 years old, while he was 41 years old). Although Mr. Hughes realized that the count was flirting with his wife and was never away for too long, the count got to easily enchant her with his charm and extroverted personality. Furthermore, the friendship with those distinguished foreigners would give the group more social legitimacy and nobody would suspect that they never belonged to the Russian nobility after all. 

And this association with the fake nobility members would end up involving Mr. Hughes in some rather embarrassing situations. For instance: 

A. The Count was in the habit of going out with Helen Hughes together with his “cousins”. One day, they went to the countryside and the Count walked alone with Mrs. Hughes while one of his cousins was on the table waiting for their return. However, it suddenly started to rain torrentially and the Count and Mrs. Hughes ended up being stranded in a more isolated place, just the two of them, leaving the “cousin” behind. 

This “cousin” called Mr. Hughes and told him that his wife was safe with them at the Hotel des Reves and, due to the heavy rain, she would not be able to return home that night. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hughes was fainted in a scary-looking house being taken care of by the Count and an older woman. The count told Mrs. Hughes that her foot needed rest and that the rain prevented them from returning home that night. 

B. Once the Count told Mrs. Hughes that he urgently needed money, as he had a life or death matter to solve and asked her to meet him in a building at night.  Maruschka, seeing that the Count was did not really care about her and that his marriage promise was not true, ended up setting the building on fire. Both the Count and Mrs. Hughes are trapped and the firefighters were called. The Count jumped in order to save himself, leaving Mrs. Hughes behind. She eventually got to jump too and was looked after by her husband, who saw the Count’s letter asking money for his wife and realized she was being the victim of a scam. 

The Count ended up being rejected by the local high society due to the ensuing scandal and he subsequently tried to seduce Marietta, but her father sees it and ends up murdering the Count and throwing his body on the sewage. His “cousins” were arrested afterwards and the Hughes couple continued with their marriage without further problems.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Sherlock Jr. (USA,1924)

Buster Keaton is famous for his masterpieces The General (USA, 1926) and Steamboat Bill, Jr. (USA, 1928), but this cute little gem is within the same level of aforementioned films and one of most elaborate Keaton works in terms of special effects.

With a highly relatable plot of a boy in a humble existence who wished to have a more successful life, naturalistic acting with touches of romanticism (mixed with a plenty of physical gags, typical of Keaton’s work) this charming little comedy has stood well the test of time and could delight modern-day audiences without difficulty. After all, cinema always has the power of transforming lives and make people’s dreams come true.

Buster Keaton works as a projectionist who studies to be a detective too. He operates the projector in a small town movie theater and also does the cleaning. His working routine is shown in the beginning of the film, which provides a good glimpse of what 1920s movie theaters looked like. As the said in one of initial intertitles of the film “ (…) While employed as a moving picture operator in a small town theater he was also studying to be a detective”. Keaton did not always manage to multitask his profession and his studies, but he had good intentions and did the best he could.

Keaton is also in love with a pretty girl, but he has an evil rival for her affections. None of them is particularly wealthy and could not afford giving her expensive gifts, for instance. One day both suitors visit the girl in her house and suddenly her father had his pocket watch stolen. Keaton volunteers to find out who had stolen it, but he isn’t particularly skilled as a detective yet and, to make things worse, his rival gets to put the pawn ticket of the watch in his pocket. Keaton ended up being accused of the crime and is kicked out of the house of his sweetheart. 

Buster Keaton was well-known for making his own stunts, many of them quite hair-raising and risky, and he did not care if it was dangerous or not. He seldom got hurt, but this time he had hurt himself very badly - and without even knowing it. While making this film, Keaton suffered at least two accidents, one of those became very spoken about by Buster Keaton scholars. In a scene Keaton followed closely the other suitor right after being kicked out of his sweetheart’s house until both of them embark a train and -for offscreen reasons -this scene became famous. It is in this scene where the most serious accident occurred. While on top of the train he was struck by the flow of water from a water tower. The force of the water was far greater than he had anticipated, which caused him to fall off the rope straight on the train track. He got to finish this scene, which was a chase, then interrupted the filming briefly and was back to work some days later. Around eleven years later, during a routine checkup, Keaton was told by a doctor that he had broken his neck in the past based on a x ray which showed a callus had had grown over the fracture on his neck. The second accident was during a bicycle chase scene displayed close to the end of the film, which was less serious than the first accident mentioned above.

What makes Sherlock Junior a special film is that it is a film within a film with many incredible gags and techniques. The whole show begins when Keaton fall asleep as a projectionist while showing a film in the movie theater. This film within the film is called “Hearts and Pearls”. Inside his dream, as a projectionist, Keaton tries to enter the “Hearts and Pearls” film that was being shown on screen, but he was kicked off by one of the actors. Subsequently, Keaton manages to enter the screen and becomes part of the film “Hearts and Pearls” and in this film inside the film the famous detective Sherlock Jr. (Keaton himself) is called to solve a crime. The pearls had been stolen in the house of a wealthy family and the real criminals prepared a trap for Sherlock Jr. -who was called “the crime-crushing criminologist” according to one of intertitles -but the trap did not work out and the detective left the house free from any harm and solved the crime right afterwards.

Meanwhile, the girl went to the pawn brokers carrying her father’s watch and asked the salesman to describe the man who had pawned that watch. He had described her other suitor and at that moment the suitor was coincidently passing by the store and the salesman had confirmed it was that guy who had pawned the watch.

When Keaton awakened and found out that his Sherlock Junior adventure had been just a dream, the girl was in his workplace to tell him that her father had committed a serious mistake and that he found out Keaton was innocent and did not steal the watch. Then, the film “Hearts and Pearls” was still being shown on screen and while talking to the girl he realized that his life had finally got similar to the plot of the film and this time he was not dreaming. It was true, his dreams had started to come true.

The plot is easy to understand and very human. After all, many people have already dreamed with social recognition and success while performing their ordinary duties. The romanticism between Keaton and the girl is similar to 1920s Harold Lloyd’s comedies and by this time the narrative style was well-established in Hollywood, not too different from the narratives from modern-day films.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Merry Widow (USA, 1925)

Director Eric von Stroheim has a larger than life reputation to this day, due to his multiple clashes with studios about budget and artistic freedom and even his tense relationships with some actors in the set. But this film, being one of his biggest successes, both financially and among audiences, proved that Stroheim could also excel in more mainstream films with well-established actors.
This film is an entertaining musical, starring the heartthrob John Gilbert (at the height of his fame and delivering a fine, passionate performance) and Mae Murray (an actress with good comedy and dancing skills, who was formerly in the Ziegfeld Follies).

This film had a careful production by MGM, which was already one of most prestigious studios of the era. The scenery is grandiose and the pace is quite relaxed, almost a fairy tale. Erick von Stroheim took time to introduce the characters. There is clever use of visuals and images, as Stroheim was almost literary when it came to attention to details of the plot.
John Gilbert played Prince Danilo Petrovich, a womanizer. His cousin, Crown Prince Mirko is also a womanizer and they both often competed for affections of the same women, although Mirko lacked the charm and elegance of Danilo and deep inside he was envious of it. Mae Murray was Sally O'Hara, a dancer (a role that fit perfectly the dancing qualifications she had in real life). Both Danilo and Mirko got attracted to Sally, as well as wealthy Baron Sadoja (the Baron turned out to be a feet fetishist and that gave room to some quite funny scenes). Sally chose Danilo as her sweetheart and they both fell in love with each other and Danilo wanted to marry Sally.

However, king Nikita forbade Danilo to marry her because she was a plebeian and a dancer and a prince was supposed to have the duty of marrying a proper woman to his dignity due to loyalty to his kingdom. Therefore, Danilo ended up leaving Sally at the altar because he could not bear the pressure of his family.

After such disappointment, Sally accepted marrying older Baron Sadoja, who had conveniently passed away at the wedding night. Sally inherited Sadoja's estate as well as the title of Baroness.
One year later, both Danilo and Sally meet in Paris. They both started dancing in the ballroom and talked about the past. The point is that Crown Prince Mirko was also in Paris and it became clear to Sally that Mirko showed interest in her only because of her money and she suspected that Danilo's affection for her was not sincere either.

Danilo challenged Mirko for a duel, even though Sally begged him to give up this idea. It seemed Danilo had died in the duel, but he only got wounded. Meanwhile, King Nikita passed away and Mirko inherited the throne, but it would not last because he was assassinated right afterwards. The second in the succession line was Danilo, who became king and was finally free to marry Sally, which he did without hesitation. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Mary Pickford (1892 - 1979) - Vida e Obra

Nascida Gladys Smith em 08 de abril de 1892 no Canadá, ela tinha dois irmãos mais novos, Lotti e Jack. Seu pai morreu quando Mary tinha cerca de 05 anos de idade, deixando sua mãe, Charlotte, sozinha com três filhos para criar. 
A mãe tentou várias profissões para sustentar os filhos, até montar uma pensão em sua casa. Certo dia, Charlotte alugou um dos quartos para um senhor que se identificou como ator e ele disse que sua companhia de teatro estava precisando de crianças para atuar em suas peças. Ao ver que o ambiente da companhia de teatro era bom, Charlotte aceitou que seus filhos trabalhassem como atores. Afinal de contas, o dinheiro era altamente necessário. 
Nessa época, a família era tão pobre que Charlotte chegou a cogitar dar Mary para que uma família abastada a criasse. Porém, quando Mary descobriu, ela chorou muito e isso fez com que Charlotte desistisse.
Na virada do século XIX para o XX, Mary entra para a carreira teatral, a qual foi bem sucedida. Isso fez com que ela estreasse na Broadway por meio da companhia de David Belasco aos 15 anos de idade. Essa era uma das companhias de teatro mais famosas dos Estados Unidos na época. 
Mas, mesmo na Broadway e fazendo parte de um grupo tão famoso, o trabalho era sazonal. Em 1909, após Mary ficar meses sem trabalho, Charlotte mandou Mary buscar trabalho em estúdios de cinema. Nessa época, o teatro ainda era considerado socialmente mal visto, mas a reputação do cinema era ainda pior. Nos Estados Unidos do começo do século XX, os cinemas (também chamados Nickelodeons) eram uma diversão extremamente barata e frequentados em sua maioria por pessoas extremamente pobres e imigrantes. Mary, sendo uma atriz da Broadway, também considerava o cinema abaixo da sua dignidade de atriz, mas ela não podia contrariar as ordens da mãe. 
Assim, nesse mesmo ano de 1909, Mary conseguiu emprego nos estúdios Biograph, de Nova York, que era dirigido pelo famoso diretor D.W. Griffith. Mary fez sucesso com seus filmes em pouco tempo. Ela foi uma das primeiras atrizes do cinema americano a adotar um estilo mais naturalista de atuar, em oposição a linguagem teatral de gestos mais exagerados. Devido a divergências artísticas e criativas, ela frequentemente discutia com Griffith, apesar de ter feito muito sucesso em seus filmes. 
Foi também nos estúdios Biograph onde ela conheceu seu primeiro marido, o ator irlandês Owen Moore. Charlotte não aprovou esse casamento. O casal não teve filhos e o casamento fracassou devido ao alcoolismo de Moore e ao fato de Mary ser uma atriz muito mais bem sucedida do que ele. 
Depois de alguns anos, Mary se transferiu para o Famous Players, studio, de propriedade de Adolph Zukor. E nesse período, Mary fez um sucesso estrondoso e em meados da década de 1910, ela passou a ter sua própria unidade de produção dentro do estúdio, onde ela trabalhava com total liberdade artística e compartilhando os lucros dos filmes com o estúdio principal. O controle criativo desses filmes era compartilhado entre Mary e o próprio Zukor. 
Parte do sucesso de Mary se devia ao fato de que ela era a personificação da mulher ideal. Virtuosa, honesta, corajosa para lutar pelos seus ideais. Era a filha que todos os pais queriam ter e como todas as mulheres gostariam de ser. Mary trouxe respeitabilidade para o cinema. Ela nunca era vista fumando ou bebendo em público e fazia muitas campanhas publicitárias
Ainda na década de 1910, Mary conheceu o ator Douglas Fairbanks (que já tinha uma carreira bem estabelecida na Broadway) justamente quando seu casamento estava na pior fase. O problema é que tanto Mary quanto Douglas eram casados com outras pessoas e um divórcio poderia acabar com a carreira de ambos. Afinal de contas, atores dependiam de sua popularidade junto ao público. 
Durante a Primeira Guerra Mundial, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin e outras personalidades populares na época, viajaram pelos Estados Unidos vendendo bônus de guerra e seus discursos atraíam multidões, conforme pode ser confirmado por filmagens desses eventos que sobrevivem até hoje. Essa era também uma desculpa perfeita para que Mary e Douglas pudessem estar juntos em público. 
No começo de 1919, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin e D.W. Griffith fundaram a United Artists, uma companhia de distribuição de filmes a fim de lutar contra uma fusão dos grandes estúdios, destinada a baixar os salários dos atores e de todo o pessoal envolvido na produção cinematográfica Hollywoodiana. Esse era um negócio de alto risco, pois apesar de todos os quatro serem artistas com muito talento para os negócios, nenhum deles nunca havia administrado uma empresa de grande porte antes. Mas tudo deu certo. 
Em 1920 Mary e Douglas se divorciaram de seus antigos cônjuges e se casaram. A reação do público foi surpreendente porque, ao invés de o casamento deles ter causado um escândalo, isso na verdade aumentou a popularidade de ambos. Ainda sobrevivem as filmagens da lua de mel de Mary e Douglas na Europa, onde eles arrastaram multidões de fãs estrangeiros, a ponto de isso ter até atrapalhado a privacidade da viagem deles. 
Ambos permaneceram casados até 1936. A mansão do casal, apelidada de “Pickfair”, se tornou lendária por suas festas, frequentadas até por políticos e membros da realeza. 
Douglas Fairbanks atingiu o estrelato com seus filmes de capa e espada na década de 1920. Mas o começo da era do cinema falado representou o fim da popularidade dos dois atores, que se aposentaram do cinema no começo da década de 1930. Essa época foi ainda mais difícil para Mary, por conta do falecimento de sua mãe e dois irmãos mais novos em um espaço de poucos anos. O divórcio de Faibanks, por conta de uma traição dele, também foi um golpe duro. 
Mary continuou muito rica ao longo de toda a vida e se casou com seu terceiro e último marido (o ator Charles "Buddy" Rogers) em 1937. Além de ter criado sua sobrinha (filha de Lottie, a única família de sangue que lhe restou) ela sempre manteve uma ótima relação com o filho de Douglas Fairbanks, que mais tarde viria a se tornar ator sob o nome de Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Mais tarde, Mary também adotou mais duas crianças. 
Após sua aposentadoria do cinema, Mary levou uma vida discreta e longe dos holofotes. Sempre se mostrou educada e humilde em suas entrevistas, apoiando instituições de caridade e fazendo doações. Mary faleceu em 1979, aos 87 anos de idade.