Mary Pickford is the wretch desperately trying to climb the social ladder in “Suds”, a fluffy comedy that can’t handle drama and giggles at the same time, but in its comedic boundaries, it comes up with a few funny moments that make it sparkle. As Amanda Afflick, an inept laundry girl at the French Hand Laundry in London, Pickford continued her skill of being completely different in every role. Unlike Chaplin, Keaton, or Lloyd, equally talented masters of silent comedy, Pickford never took on a persona or some kind of article of clothing that audiences could easily define her with. She looks downright dirty in this laundry racket. Tattered clothing, worn-out shoes and constant berating by fellow employees, her station in life is one that she doesn’t want to face anymore. But where’s hope for her?
Perhaps it comes with Horace Greensmith (Albert Austin), a well to-do young English gentleman who dropped off a shirt for cleaning eight months ago and hasn’t returned for it since. However, Amanda pines for him every time she washes his shirt twice a week. From the way she dreams, that look in her eyes of being far, far away from there, it may not necessarily be the man she’s after, but what he represents. No wonder the other women at the laundry constantly wear her down with their taunts and tart tongues toward her inability to get anything right. Pickford plays the role sweepingly well, even assuming another role in a fantasy story midway through the film where she regales the women with a tale of how her father, The Archduke (Darwin Karr) sent her away to the real world so that someone would love her for who she is, rather than her “jools [sic] and title”. Naturally, she’s lying all the way.
“Suds” includes a few entertaining comedic sequences, most appreciatively one where she brings up Lavender the horse into her room on a rainy night and prances around with him, leading to pieces of ceiling falling down on the bed of the family below. And here, Lavender, even in silent form, is the ancestor to Francis the Talking Mule and Mr. Ed in a sequence where he politely tells two uppity black horses to shove it. There’s a fair amount of melodrama here, and the comedy becomes a welcome respite from that. For one, Amanda’s constant dreams of a higher-class life come at the price of annoyance rather than deeper sympathy for her and her “plight”.
“Suds” even had three endings, the current one which was chosen above all as to keep with the tempo of the characters already present. Benjamin Jones (Harold Goodwin) who seems more like a “sometimes” friend of Amanda is kept as background material, and disappointingly so. It’s impressive in relation to the DVD release of “Suds” as to what was found for this. Not only is there the American version of “Suds”, but also a foreign release which has alternate takes of scenes and in essence, creates an entirely different film despite the same material. This was because duplicate negatives couldn’t be made back then and producers made domestic and foreign versions this way by using two cameras. The alternate happy ending is also featured and a brief side-by-side comparison between the foreign and domestic versions highlights the above-mentioned material. Interestingly enough, the foreign release came from Mary Pickford’s own collection, a 35mm print of the film from 1972, which contains an entirely different score by organist Gaylord Carter, shown at the beginning with the organ. The 16mm version which is the main attraction on this DVD was restored by the Library of Congress.
The other noteworthy piece of entertainment on here is “The Birth of a Legend”, a 22-minute documentary from 1966 on Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, whose marriage created Pickfair, a spectacular property as well as distinguished careers. The narrator is really intent on hitting all those notes which make Pickford and Fairbanks seem like Very Important Actors. But mostly, it’s a gloss job and a good one at that as they really took the world into their hands during their travels.
As a part of Mary Pickford’s canon of work, “Suds” is a minor enjoyment, giving some weight to her comedic skills, while the rest of the movie creaks along. As film history, it’s wonderful that it’s available for all who wish to watch.