Since I've recently begun enjoying Buck Jones Westerns, I've been particularly interested to look at some of his earlier work in silent movies, for directors like John Ford and Frank Borzage.
To that end I watched JUST PALS (1920), a short and sweet 50-minute film Jones starred in for Ford -- who incidentally was billed as Jack Ford, not John.
Jones was about 28 when he starred in JUST PALS as Bim, the shiftless ne-er-do-well in a small town. Bim's life is changed when he comes to the rescue of a young hobo (George Stone) caught stealing a ride on a train. Bim takes the boy under his wing and soon finds himself worrying for the first time about things like meals and education.
Bim is sweet on the schoolteacher, Mary (Helen Ferguson), who provides additional inspiration for his reformation. When Mary makes a poor decision to lend money from a school fund to oily Harvey Cahill (William Buckley), Bim comes to her rescue when the funds are needed earlier than expected, finding the money and taking blame for it having been "missing."
This is an enjoyable little film which provided me with the chance to see Jones a good decade younger than in any of his films I've seen to date. Even at that early stage of his career he was an expressive and moving actor. Jones does a fine job capturing Bim's evolution from perennially napping lazybones to concerned parental figure, finally having a reason to work, to a lovestruck, noble man.
This early work from Ford might not have his stamp on every frame, but the examination of a community is a familiar Ford theme, as seen in JUDGE PRIEST (1934) this past weekend. The juxtaposition of poignance and comedy seen in this movie is another Ford hallmark.
The film also has an unusually dark moment when Mary watches as a mother instructs her son to drown some kittens, but the little boy empties the sack out when his mother's not looking. All's well in the end but the animal lover in me had some trouble with the whole idea of that sequence! Not to mention the fact that shortly after that scene it's announced that Mary has tried to drown herself.
JUST PALS was filmed by George Schneiderman.
JUST PALS is available on DVD in the big Ford at Fox Collection as well as in the smaller John Ford's Silent Epics Collection.
Previous Buck Jones reviews: THE DEADLINE (1931), RIDIN' FOR JUSTICE (1932), UNKNOWN VALLEY (1933), THE MAN TRAILER (1934), BOSS OF LONELY VALLEY (1937), ARIZONA BOUND (1941), and THE GUNMAN FROM BODIE (1941).