It has been said that either too complete praise or vituperation withdraws all merit from a criticism. We hestitate to withdraw all worth from our review of "The Little Friend" now at the Fine Arts, nevertheless we intend to adopt an attitude of complete admiration. In all the welter of gigantic, colossal, insignificant movies, it is a real pleasure to praise one that is not planned on a grand scale, makes no pretensions to greatness, yet in yet very sincerity, in the dramatic power of a graceful little girl, reaches the heights.
Nova Pilbeam, an unhappy name for the most charming and highly successful actress we have seen in several years, displays consummate skill and undeniable promise. She is only a little child, possibly fourteen. We beg of you not to conjure up visions of a new Shirl--no, it would be a sacrilege to mention the two names in the same paragraph. Miss Pilbeam is not cute, she is not clever; on the other hand, she is beautiful, and she is unquestionably a great dramatic actress. We do not hesitate in promising a future equally as great as this, her very great beginning.
The supporting cast is competent. Matheson Lang and Lydia Sherwood are both convincing as the child's parents. The plot is that of the American child "Wednesday's Child." Do not let this discourage you, however. It is not necessary to be in the proper emotional pitch to enjoy this film. The simple sincerity creates the proper emotional pitch. And whether or not the morbidity of the plot is uninteresting to you, the brilliance of the star, the grace, the charm with which this little girl lives her simple London existence will fill you with the greatest admiration.
Nova is almost continuously before the camera, yet in only one scene is she possibly open to the charge of over-acting. She contemplates suicide and stares somewhat calf-eyed for just a moment too long at the pictures of her parents. However, in the only scene in which she is allowed to raise her delightful voice, a scene in which it is possible to imagine the most mature actresses losing control, she performs with such success that tingles race up and down the spine, and emotional people weep.
The humor in the film is carefully restrained, but it comes out delightfully at just the proper moments to relieve the dramatic tension and prepare for the next scene. Excellent photography characterizes the piece. In fact, the photography and incidental music both are patterns which Hollywood well might emulate. All in all, it is a work of art in typical British-Gaumont goed taste. Directed by Berthold Viertel, Miss Nova Pilbeam reaches dramatic heights which merit the attention of every movie-goer. Whether or not you'll love her, as we do, you'll appreciate her.