"Captain January" is the film that finally left no question in the moviegoers' minds of 1924 that Baby Peggy was a major star. And why not? The story has all of the elements of success about it, and the charming and talented five-year old Baby Peggy Montgomery couldn't have had a more suitable role.
The most successful films seem to be those that can effectively balance both comedy and drama in one story, and, credit should be given to director Eddie Cline, because "Captain January" does a very adept balancing act. Yes, there is comedy, but not the slapstick kind that today's audiences so readily associate with silents. This is comedy put over effectively by a charming five-year old, so it's a more subtle and "cute" comedy. For example, we see Captain January sitting for her haircut, bowl on her head and being very patient as Daddy Judkins clips away with the scissors. When he is through, she stands, assumes a wide-eyed look right into the camera, and begins to twist, twitch and scratch because of the cut hair that has gone down her back. She even tries leaning over and almost standing on her head to get the annoying hair out of her clothing. The camera then switches to her dog, Skipper, who has been watching the proceedings quietly. Suddenly, he begins to twist and scratch, as well.
And there is drama, too, the most heart-rending kind. When the time comes for Jeremiah to give Captain January up, he hasn't the heart to tell her. So he rows her out to the Mortons' yacht, and, while she is down below, he sneaks away. Realizing her Daddy Judkins is missing, she runs up on deck only to see him rowing away. Crying uncontrollably, she reaches out her arms and sobs, "Daddy, Daddy, come back!" Jeremiah can't stand it and turns his rowboat around to go back to the yacht, but the yacht is quickly pulling away. The scene ends with the old man standing in his rowboat, arms outstretched silhouetted against the horizon. Heavy stuff.
There are many inspired moments in "Captain January." The movie was obviously designed to appeal to the kiddies, so the presence of a couple of cute animals adds some flavor to the storyline. Captain January's dog, Skipper, has already been mentioned, but she also has another pet - a seagull named Hamlet. After supper she splits the leftovers between the two pets. However, one evening, Skipper decides to steal Hamlet's portion, as well. In retaliation, Hamlet grabs Skipper's tail, and the canine culprit begins to howl. Captain January has to separate them and asks why they can't learn to love one another.
Bob brings a parrot to the house one day, and when Jeremiah asks if Polly wants a cracker, the parrot retorts, "Go to h ---!" Bob immediately covers Captain January's ears. She then grabs the dictionary, opens it and says, "You never showed me any of those words, Daddy!"
One delightful scene has Bob playing his piccolo while Jeremiah and Captain January dance. Unfortunately, the scene is all too short as Baby Peggy appears to be a very capable dancer.
Jeremiah's method of raising and educating the child has its humorous moments, too. His theory is that a child needs only three books - "Shakespeare for the mind, the Bible for the soul, and the dictionary to settle disputes." After being commended by the Minister for his upbringing of the child, Jeremiah says, "There's only three things needed to bring up a child - the Lord's help, common sense and a cow."
There are, of course, a few flaws, which don't adversely affect the film too much. For one thing, we never learn what the "enmity" is all about between Maxwell and Jeremiah. Also, after the shipwreck, why didn't some of the relatives come to Fair Harbor inquiring about survivors? How could the baby survive and no one know it, especially since everyone in town seemed to know where Jeremiah got the child?
Also, the Grapevine print that was viewed must have some very small portion missing toward the end. We are told that a telegram has been sent to the Mortons informing them that Captain January is safe with Jeremiah after stowing away on Bob Peet's boat. The next scene shows them all at the table eating a meal in Jeremiah's home. Here's where something must be missing - we then see Captain January and Jeremiah on the yacht with the Mortons. Nothing to tell us the Mortons had asked Jeremiah to come live with them. It seems to end at the proper place, but there must be a title or two missing.
This is a good movie and highly recommended. Bosworth and Baby Peggy do an exceptional job. Her only rival as the top child star of the day was Jackie Coogan, and it's easy to see why she was so popular after viewing this film.
A final word about Baby Peggy. Although she made over 100 two reelers for Century before going into feature films, we have only a few (maybe four or five in varying states of survival) of these that still exist today, so we only get a very brief glimpse into that phase of her career that really catapulted her to stardom. As for her features, we have "Captain January" (1924), "Helen's Babies" (1924), "The Family Secret" (1924) and "April Fool" (1926). Although "April Fool" is not a Baby Peggy starring vehicle, the other three clearly show the star quality of this child and why she was so popular in her day. We can only hope that one day these films will undergo a restoration with specially written and recorded scores. They certainly deserve it.
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