"The New York Hat" (1912) is one of the many short films D.W. Griffith directed at Biograph. It marks Griffith's last collaboration with Mary Pickford and presents a youthful Lionel Barrymore in a leading role. The story begins with the death of a small town woman, Mrs. Goodhue, who leaves a letter to her young minister, Preacher Bolton, played by Lionel Barrymore. The letter tells how her miserly husband worked her to death. She asks Preacher Bolton to carry out her wish that he buy nice things for her daughter out of the money she has saved. Mary Pickford plays the daughter, Mollie, who later dreams of a New York hat she has seen in a store window.
Unfortunately, it costs ten dollars. Loyal to the dead mother's wishes, Preacher Bolton buys the hat for Mollie, giving it to her as a gift, but telling her to keep this a secret. Since townswomen shopping in the store saw Preacher Bolton make the purchase, they naturally assume the worst when Mollie wears the hat to church. Soon gossip spreads through the town. Enraged, Mollie's father destroys her beloved hat. Preacher Bolton is warned he will have to right the wrong he's done Mollie, but he shows her father and the town gossips her mother's letter. The ending is quite a surprise. Aside from being an early pioneer one-reel film with historical significance, I find "The New York Hat" to be still enjoyable almost one hundred years later. It is one of the most successful shorts from Griffith's Biograph period with fine performances from two legends of early film. Pickford had a real gift for portraying innocence. This film shows how she had already mastered the art of projecting emotions through the lens directly to the audience. Barrymore shows himself to be a fine screen actor and also gets the full benefit of Griffith's camera. Only sixteen minutes in duration, "The New York Hat" is a charming little drama that still has the power to move modern viewers.
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