M’liss (1936)

Melissa Smith (Anne Shirley), known as “M’liss” for short, is the daughter of gold miner Washoe Smith (Guy Kibbee). A whole town has built up around Washoe’s claim — Smith’s Pocket.

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(Image via IMDb)

But Washoe has become unwelcome in his own town. His luck with gold has run out, and he’s being forced out of his home, which the town has decided to convert into a school.

M’liss and Washoe are none too happy to leave their home, but they’ll make do… or, they think they will, until Washoe gets into a skirmish that may prove fatal. New-in-town teacher Stephen Thorne (John Beal) decides to help M’liss, along with her dad’s friends Lou (Douglass Dumbrille) and Alf (Frank M. Thomas).

M’liss was directed by George Nicholls, Jr. The screenplay was written by Dorothy Yost. It is a remake of a 1918 silent starring Mary Pickford.

Anne Shirley gives a nice performance in the title role of this film. She has many moments of strength and a few bratty moments, but most importantly makes the viewer root for her character’s happiness. She’s a scrappy young woman, willing to do anything to stand up for herself and her father. She’s got a big heart, but it’s her spunk that serves her best in the wild, gold rush West.

Though I liked Anne Shirley in this role and found her character interesting, the film overall is underwhelming. It feels slow, even though a lot happens. The Smiths lose their house, Washoe is shot… and that’s just the beginning of it. There are a few moments of dramatic impact but not enough to truly hold the viewer’s attention, and not nearly as much as you’d expect given the sequence of events.

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(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The film does pick up pace a bit when *SPOILER ALERT* M’liss loses her father, and the film is left to explore her uncertain future. *END SPOILER* But where this could have become an inspiring story of a young woman persevering in the face of great hardship, it instead devolves into a sketchy student-teacher love triangle, M’liss falling for Stephen Thorne, who has also caught the eye of her mean-girl rival.

M’liss is worth a watch if you’re a fan of Anne Shirley. Her performance is sympathetic, and probably the film’s strongest asset. Look elsewhere for a truly engaging gold rush drama, though.

 

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