The Pointing Finger (1919)

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Filmed on location in and around the Wrigley Mansion in Pasadena, CA, this typical silent melodrama marked the fourth and final collaboration between director Tod Browning and blonde leading lady Mary MacLaren. Browning, who was busy preparing the more important The Virgin of Stamboul at the time, left the directorial chores for The Pointing Finger to first Paul Powell, then Edward Morrissey, and finally former cameraman Edward Kull, assuming a "supervisory" position himself. The result, a Mary Pickford-ish tale of a young orphan drudge who runs away to the Big City and is falsely accused of theft, suffered from all the changes and was dismissed by the critics as "nonsensical all the way." MacLaren, the less glamorous sister of screen star Katherine MacDonald, played the unfortunate orphan, Mary Murphy, with all the sincerity she could muster under the circumstances. Finding a position as secretary to a professor, Mary promptly falls for her employer's handsome son (future director David Butler). The idyll is rudely interrupted when news of a 10,000 dollar theft from the orphanage reaches the city. The institution's crooked attorney (Carl Stockdale), who is the real thief, blackmails Mary into robbing her employer's safe. Happily, the professor is wise to the sneaky solicitor's schemes and the villain is carted off to jail. Mary MacLaren, who would live to the ripe old age of 89, retained mixed feelings about the rather strange Tod Browning, remembering him as alternately "wonderful" and "a skunk."