By Victoria Sturtevant
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Additional resources for A Great Big Girl Like Me: The Films of Marie Dressler
25 Irish World was particularly aggressive in locating the offensive caricature specifically in Marie Dressler’s body, which was singled out for negative comment: “Marie Dressler, who appears as Mrs. Callahan, has successfully impersonated a gorilla. Miss Dressler, as she appears in this film, might take the beauty prize as an ape in the jungles. That Miss Dressler chooses to look like this is her own business—or misfortune. 27 In the racist logic of a post-Darwinian nineteenth century, Anglo-Saxon Protestants were the most “evolved” race, while bre aking boundaries • 41 other ethnicities were closer to humanity’s simian ancestors.
Like any genre, sensational melodramas were given to recognizable clichés, 18 • a gre at big girl like me like the mustachioed villain, the heroine tied to the railroad tracks, and the last-minute rescue. On the high end of respectability, D. W. Griffith was a master of sensational melodrama and pioneered the use of parallel editing to give drama to the just-in-time rescue. On the low end of respectability, adventure serials with sensational titles like The Perils of Pauline (1914), The Yellow Menace (1916), or Terror of the Range (1919) were intensely popular.
Dressler was particularly skillful in using gestures that suggest an overwrought ingénue caught in the grip of first love. The robust Dressler reveals the neurotic physicality of the Griffith-style young heroine as the center of an infantile and ludicrous charade. When flirting with Charlie, she doesn’t just finger the hem of her skirt shyly but puts the hem of her skirt into her mouth, an outrageously excessive bit of business. When she throws a flower at her suitor as a teasing gesture, she does so with such force that he responds as though he has been hit with a brick.
A Great Big Girl Like Me: The Films of Marie Dressler by Victoria Sturtevant