Tess of the Storm Country (1922)
Directed by John Robertson with scenarios co-written by Josephine Lovett (Our Dancing Daughters (1928)) this frequently filmed (story) silent is actually the second done by Mary Pickford the first being the 1914 version that helped launch her stardom. The film opens with a “letter” by its star explaining that with the advent of better technology she decided to remake this story with which she is most associated and most frequently mentioned by her fans.
Naturally Pickford plays the title role the poor daughter of a man falsely accused of murder. Her father and many other families are squatters by the lake on the wealthy Graves family estate. Mr. Graves’s actions to use the fish & wildlife commission to seize the squatters’ nets to starve them out leads to the murder of his future “son-in-law” (Robert Russell) who was trying to impress Graves (David Torrence) enough to finally give him permission to marry daughter Teola (Gloria Hope). Meanwhile Graves’s son Frederick (Lloyd Hughes) is smitten with the cute slight dirty little daughter Tess (Pickford) of the old fisherman (Forrest Robinson).
In actuality the unpleasant brute Ben Letts (Jean Hersholt uncharacteristically) shot and killed the prospective son-in-law during the squatters’ clandestine fishing expedition with the old fisherman’s gun when he’d spied their activities to alert the fish & wildlife authorities. Ezra Longman (Danny Hoy) witnessed the event but is threatened by Letts who wants Tess for himself never to reveal the truth. So the old fisherman is found guilty during the trial even those his defense was paid for by the younger Graves Frederick. Letts then tries to “take” Tess who is rescued by “her” big dog angering Letts to vow revenge.
Meanwhile a distraught Teola tries to drown herself only to be rescued by Tess. As it turns out Teola is pregnant! She gives birth to a baby then begs Tess to keep it secret and care for it. This leads to confusion and a wrong assumption on Frederick’s part when he returns home. Teola doesn’t admit that it’s her child and Frederick feels betrayed by Tess – their “love” lost. Tess is unable to care the infant properly given her means and is even caught and reprimanded attempting to steal milk from the Graves. Eventually Ezra decides he’s going to tell the truth about Letts but Letts tries to kill Ezra to keep him quiet. Milton Berle is reported to have played a bit part uncredited in this film.
*** SPOILERS ***
Letts learns of “Tess’s” child and tries to force her to marry him. Frederick turns up in time such that the both are able to fight him off but not before Frederick is led to believe (by Letts) that the child is his and Tess’s. Ezra survives and tells the truth about the murder which frees Tess’s Pa. At about the same time recognizing that the baby was going to die without ever being baptized Tess takes it to the church to sprinkle holy water on it. Shunned by Mr. Graves who’s also shunned his own son Frederick per his earlier support of Tess’s father Tess holds the baby in her arms as it dies before the congregation. Teola then admits it’s her child as she rushes to hold the dead child. Ashamed both Graves men realize the error of their assumptions the elder comforting his daughter. With the spirit of Christmas Graves deeds some of his land to the squatters he tells Tess’s now free Father while Tess and Frederick “make-up” and embrace long enough to be buried in the falling snow.