Monday, November 17, 2014

Captain January

Tonight is TCM's third night of silent movies for the "Star of the Month" theme which this month salutes a whole bunch of silent stars and not just one person. This week is a mishmash of themes, with a couple of Oscar-winners, the Talmadge sisters Norma and Constance, and a couple of child stars. One of those child stars is Baby Peggy, who can be seen in the film Captain January, at 1:00 AM.

Baby Peggy actually plays the title character. She's a little girl who, as an infant, was on a cruise with her wealthy family when disaster befell the ship and she was washed overboard. She was fortuitously rescued by lighthouse keeper Jeremiah Judkins (Hobart Bosworth) who, living along at that lighthouse, decided to take care of the little girl as best he could, which he did for several years, christening her "Captain January" presumably for when he found her. She, for her part, grows up to like Jeremiah, because he's the only family she's ever known. At some point she's going to have to go off to school and get a formal education, but at the time of the movie she's still only about five, so they don't have to worry about that quite yet.

Of course, you know things are going to change. That happens when some wealthy people in the form of Isabella (Irene Rich) and her crowd visit the lighthouse. She sees Captain January, puts two and two together, and realizes that she's the little girl who went overboard from that yacht some years back, which would make January... her niece. So now we actually have biological family, although it's somebody who doesn't know January as well as Jeremiah. She could raise the little girl better, though, because she's got more money and more youthful energy. But January doesn't want to leave the only home she's ever known and besides, if she did, it would probably be the death of poor old Jeremiah. So there's a real dilemma here, although one that you know is going to be resolved happily.

A movie like Captain January rises or falls based on how well its child star does, and Bebby Peggy is endlessly charming. It's easy to see why she was such a huge hit in the early 1920s. You can understand her side of the story, how she's learned some independence from being at the lighthouse all those years, and why she loves Jeremiah; her distress at the idea of having to leave him is palpable and sensible. Baby Peggy's monkeyshines are also entertaining. The movie is short and with a formulaic ending, but it's still a winner.

If you like Captain Jnauary, stay tuned for the documentary Baby Peggy: The ELephant in the Room which follows at 2:15 AM. It's a fascinating look into the rise and fall of a six-year-old star who pretty much had no control over what was going on.

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