By Victoria Sturtevant
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Extra info for A Great Big Girl Like Me: The Films of Marie Dressler
Although it is no longer possible to see The Callahans and the Murphys, the publicity stills that survive suggest that the film uses Marie Dressler’s body in ways that recalled this previous generation of ethnic stereotypes. Figure 7, for instance, shows Dressler, dressed in bloomers and rag curls, her shoulders shockingly bare, scolding her young son, who appears to be wearing a dressing gown several sizes too large. Dressler’s slightly hunched posture, the broad expanse of her back, and the forward tilt of her neck all suggest that she is earthy, fleshy, and animal.
The thread that binds these three processes is Dressler’s unruly body, exploding generic and narrative boundaries. ” This distortion of Kathleen Norris’ novel is without excuse either as art or amusement; its only explanation seems to be a deliberate purpose to travesty the Irish people and to discredit the Catholic Faith. —Press Release, National Catholic Welfare Conference News Service, July 25, 1927 Kathleen Norris’s short-story collection The Callahans is a sentimental, often mournful remembrance of two Irish families facing triumph and loss over the years.
Not so the film. ”10 Dressler was shocked and baffled by the outrage that greeted the picture’s release. She recalled, “But there was a joker in the deck. One that none of us had dreamed could be there. The picture was about the Irish, and the Irish didn’t like it. No sooner was it shown in a few test theaters than an avalanche of protest came in. Loyal sons of Erin rose up in their might. They said we were poking fun at them. It did no good to explain that we weren’t. ”11 MGM made several attempts to edit the film to remove the offending material, but studio executives quickly discovered that it was not just a matter of a few scenes.
A Great Big Girl Like Me: The Films of Marie Dressler by Victoria Sturtevant