Margaret O’Brien was a cosmically, even ironically self-possessed child actor who concentrated her full attention like the seasoned trouper she was, whether listening and watching or leaning forward to enunciate her lines with breathless intensity. She Sure Was Acting, and it went beyond charming into a spellbinding tension between the artificial and the totally credible. Her general preternaturalism made her effectively emotional when required to burst into racking sobs or deliver a tear-stained restraint.
Aside from lending support (such as playing Judy Garland’s little sister in Meet Me in St. Louis), she carried several vehicles herself, beginning with the sentimental WWII orphan story Journey for Margaret. This established her ability as a star in her own right, and was followed by an even more effective vehicle crafted specifically for her precocity, Lost Angel. Here she plays Alpha, an orphan raised behind the walls of a New York institute according to a scientific schedule designed to make her a genius.