Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Just Pals (USA, 1920)
With naturalistic acting of children, similar to what the audiences would see years later in Our Gang films, this film deals with the theme of friendship that crosses social statuses and social rules. Behind the Western scenery there is a rather universal plot. The tender relationship between a boy and an adult man would also be brilliantly shown in another famous film, launched by Charlie Chaplin on the following year, The Kid (USA, 1921).
A recurrent character is classic westerns is of the rude cowboy with a heart of gold and strong sense of ethics and loyalty despite the lack of a formal education and such character is also shown in this film. A kid who was not liked by the adults of his place because he was considered too indisciplined. A man (Bim), who was as marginalized at the town as the boy, develop a solid friendship after Bim defended the boy of being beaten up. At first, they were just colleagues who got along well regardless of the difference of age. Time passes, the mutual affection between them develop until it becomes a virtually fatherly connection, especially after the boy risked his life in a moving train so he could get a uniform, as Bim would only be offered a job as a porter if he had a uniform. So, the boy tried to get a uniform to Bim.
Their mutual bonds of affection have deeply positive effects on both Bim and boy. Bim managed to persuade the boy to attend the school and Bim realized he had to be more responsible and find a job so he could provide for the boy. But the boy got injured after falling off the train in an attempt to get the uniform. Bim got desolated and took the boy the house of the city’s doctor. The doctor and his wife tried to separate Bim from the boy by saying to Bim that he should cut off contact with the boy and afterwards by telling to the boy that Bim had abandoned him.
A dishonest accountant persuaded the town’s elementary school teacher to deliver him the school’s fund to compensate a loss he had while making business and claimed he would return her the money as soon as the school needed it. The school suddenly needed the funds, the teacher asked the accountant to return the money, but he did not do it. In desperation and afraid of having her reputation misjudged, the teacher attempted suicide by drowning herself in the local river, but she survived. Bim took the blame of the money deviation to protect the teacher’s reputation. He did it out of love, as it had been previously shown in the film that he loved her, but he was embarrassed of saying it to her, as he was the bum of the town and not socially respected.
A gang of robbers threatened to rob the city, Bim tried to stop the criminals from doing so but he was misjudged as a member of the gang by the town’s sheriff. There was an attempted lynching of Bim and chaos happened. He is about to be hanged on a tree by furious dwellers of the city, but the boy appeared on the scene and told the adults that the man who really planned to robbery of the town was inside of the school. While the lynching was taking place, the crooked accountant showed up at the school and demanded the teacher to hide him and that he was running away from the city and the teacher had to go with him.
The boy’s plead took the desired effect. Bim is released and the furious mob enters the school in time to find the accountant fighting with the teacher. The accountant tried to run away, but he is caught by the police and the money of the school’s fund was with him. The teacher was very touched by the sacrifice Bim made for her sake and both him and the boy became the heroes of the town. Bim was almost separated from the boy again when a man arrived in town saying he was the boy’s father, but it turned out his son was actually another kid.
After a while, after enjoying respectability for a while, both Bim and the boy arrive at the school, in socially accepted clothing and looking a bit awkward. It is clear from the beginning that Bim wanted to ask the teacher if she would date him and she apparently gladly accepted it. And the film ended happily, with Bim keeping the boy, both of them leading straight lives, and Bim also had the girl he had always loved.