THE CRY OF THE CHILDREN (George O. Nichols, 1912)

Robert Browning penned the greatest Victorian poem, The Ring and the Book. Spouse Elizabeth’s The Cry of the Children, for all its social import, is maudlin. The worst part of the same-titled independent U.S. film consists of title cards excerpting it.
     A couple and their three daughters, except for Alice, the youngest, work in a mill, and the scenes of labor in the mill, especially those of child labor, nearly match scenes from Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) in pitting small humanity against huge, vast, efficient machines. (Newsreel clips blend in with the fiction.) These gritty scenes of constant drudgery are surpassed by the end of the day, when faces and forms, bereft of all spark of energy, file out. The mill owner, leisured because the work of others keep him rich, has a childless marriage. This couple try coaxing Alice’s parents to sell them Alice; the working-class couple refuses, with Alice herself recoiling. But a strike at the mill, pursuing a living wage, breaks the family and the mother’s health; when she is too sick to return to work after the workers’ defeat, Alice’s mother is replaced at the mill by little Alice herself. Now Alice is willing to be adopted by the barren owner and wife, but they reject her as damaged goods now that labor has crushed her attractive spirit. Besides, the owner’s wife has already filled the empty space in her heart with a pet poodle. Child labor claims another life; Alice dies on the factory floor.
     Before the factory takes her down, Alice happily skips about a bit too much.
     But this is an important film—and yet another disclosure of material that made its way, in however transmuted a form, into Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941).


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