It’s quite a while since I’ve written about film here, particularly silent film, and so time to put that right.
Many people are familiar with the 1921 Charlie Chaplin film, The Kid, but not so many will have heard of Just Pals, a 1920 film directed by John Ford that has much in common with the more well known film. Just Pals stars Buck Jones as Bim, the “village bum” according to the intertitles. Here, he makes friends with a young boy, Will, who enters town on a train that he has stolen a ride on. Together they find themselves caught up in multiple adventures. As with The Kid, moves are made to take the boy away from Bim, although this takes up less time than one might expect. Elsewhere Bim and Will find themselves accused of stealing money, not once but twice. Buck Jones has never been more likeable in a rather atypical role for him, and he has a natural relationship with George (aka: Georgie Stone), a prolific child actor of the time, who plays Will. Stone left films in 1923 at the age of 14, and died in 2010, aged 100. John Ford, meanwhile, still at the beginning of his directing career, keeps the film moving along at such a quick pace that it makes this fifty minute movie ideal for those only now discovering silent films. What is perhaps most surprising is how the mood of a film from the period can change with almost shocking rapidity. Here we have a light-hearted film in the main, but then a sequence involving an attempted lynching before moving back to lighter fare.
Motion Picture News wrote that “it is the human touches, both of comedy and pathos; the well created atmosphere of the Montana town; the very natural dialogue; and the picturesque character of Bim that will win favor for this picture” – and that still stands today. In a sign of how things have changed in the last 95 years, Film Daily said the film didn’t make enough jokes at the expense of the country “hicks,” but elsewhere they find it “a pleasing bit of entertainment along the type of Huckleberry Finn.”
Just Pals is available on DVD as part of the John Ford Silent Epics boxed set.