Thursday, October 27, 2016

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2014) by Year # 0079 - CRY OF THE CHILDREN, THE (George Nichols, 1912, USA, 29m, BW)


(George Nichols, 1912, USA, 29m, BW)


The Cry of the Children
Genre : Drama
Country : United States
Release Date : 30 April 1912
Directed by George O. Nichols
Produced by Thanhouser Film Corporation
Director: George Nichols (as George O. Nichols)
Writer: Elizabeth Barrett Browning (poem)
Stars: Marie Eline, Ethel Wright, James Cruze
Duration: 29 mins.

The Cry of the Children is a 1912 American silent short drama film directed by George Nichols for the Thanhouser Company. The 29 minute picture, based on the poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning about child labor, stars Marie Eline, Ethel Wright, and James Cruze. The film was released on 30 April 1912. Controversially it featured real footage of child labor in factories. The film was selected into preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" in 2011.


An indicment of the evils of child labor, the film was controversial in its time for its use of actual footage of children employed in a working mill.


    Marie Eline as Alice, the little girl
    Ethel Wright as The working mother
    James Cruze as The working father
    Lila Chester as The factory owner's wife
    William Russell as The factory owner


This is a powerful movie, made by angry filmmakers whose indignation over the injustice they depict still packs a punch many years after the film's initial release. Unlike many dramas of its era this one won't provoke any unintended laughter today, not even when the acting looks a bit primitive or, during the climax, when a character who is deceased reappears before her awed family in the form of an angel with white feathered wings. We regard these moments with the same solemnity they must have inspired when the film was new, for the issues addressed in The Cry of the Children are no laughing matter.

This film is remembered primarily as a protest against the exploitation of children by greedy capitalists, but it is also an examination of the vast disparity between the quality of life enjoyed by the Haves and endured by the Have-nots in this country. The filmmakers do not promote any specific political agenda or solution, nor do they exhort the audience to organize, strike, or overthrow the bosses; they simply tell their tale and leave you, the viewer, to mull it over and draw your own conclusions. This strikes me as a far more effective way of reaching people than to preach the gospel of any particular "ism."

The Cry of the Children was produced by the Thanhouser Company of New Rochelle, New York, a studio in existence from 1909 to 1918, and it stands as the studio's best-known release. The story presents a stark contrast between the daily lives of a mill worker, his sickly wife and their three children-- two of whom work in the factory --and the mill's wealthy owner and his pampered spouse. The worker and his family live in shabby rooms with no heating, where the children, two girls and one boy, share a single bed. There's no silverware, no china plates. When the mother coughs and clutches her chest her husband looks horrified. Does she have tuberculosis? (Forget about "health insurance" in 1912.) The family's only joy is little Alice, a curly-haired charmer who is the one member of the family not enslaved by factory work.

Scenes at the mill, obviously filmed at a genuine mill and not in a studio, reveal workers who look hollow-eyed and exhausted. It's a jolt when we are suddenly introduced to the owner of this mill, seen in his home: it is luxurious, filled with overstuffed furniture and ornate fixtures. The owner and his wife are well-dressed and surrounded by servants who fuss over them and cater to their every need. Happenstance brings the mill owner's wife into contact with little Alice, and the lady is so charmed by the little girl she tries to adopt her. The worker and his family refuse to give up their daughter, even when the boss reaches for his wallet and offers them cash for their child. (And I can hear the audiences of those 1912 store-front theaters, hissing the rich couple and cheering when the working parents refuse his offer). But later, when the mill owner refuses to grant his employees a living wage, the workers go on strike and their living conditions worsen considerably. When life becomes intolerable little Alice goes to the mill owner's home and offers herself up for adoption.

There is some decent film-making here, however, for 1912. The framing by the camera is generally prosaic, but there's panning and the scenes of workers leaving and entering the factory are reminiscent of early film actualities of such crowd scenes, which began with the Lumiére Company's "La sortie des usines Lumiére" (1895). In one of the shots, I suspect we may actually see real laborers, as they noticeably look at the camera, just as in the actualities—something paid extras or professional actors probably wouldn't do. Furthermore, there's a flashback scene transitioned by dissolves at the end. In the final scene of the family, low-key lighting is used. Additionally, the film uses a parallel editing structure to contrast the poor victims and the obscene rich; however, D.W. Griffith, if not others, had already done this in "A Corner in Wheat" (1909). Nonetheless, it remains effective here. Overall, there is some craft in the film-making and this past look at factory life and child factory labor (which is not to say it's nonexistent today) is interesting, if depressing, and worth a look if one can get past the cumbersomeness and occasional contradictions and flaws of the lecturing.

George Nichols

George Nichols (1864 – September 20, 1927) was an American actor and film director. He appeared in 221 films between 1908 and 1928. He also directed 103 films between 1911 and 1916. He was born in Rockford, Illinois and died in Hollywood, California. He was an actor and director, known for In the Clutches of the Gang (1914), Mickey (1918) and The Under-Sheriff (1914). He was married to Viola Alberti. He died on September 20, 1927 in Hollywood, California, USA.

Selected filmography


    Behind the Scenes (1908)
    The Heart of O'Yama (1908)
    A Smoked Husband (1908)
    The Pirate's Gold (1908)
    The Hessian Renegades (1909)
    Pippa Passes (1909)
    The Death Disc: A Story of the Cromwellian Period (1909)
    The Red Man's View (1909)
    In Little Italy (1909)
    To Save Her Soul (1909)
    The Day After (1909)
    The Rocky Road (1910)
    The Woman from Mellon's (1910)
    The Two Brothers (1910)
    The Unchanging Sea (1910)
    What the Daisy Said (1910)
    A Flash of Light (1910)
    Heart Beats of Long Ago (1911)
    What Shall We Do with Our Old? (1911)
    The Lily of the Tenements (1911)
    The Lonedale Operator (1911)
    Enoch Arden (1911)
    Fighting Blood (1911)
    Two Daughters of Eve (1912)
    Heredity (1912)
    The Unwelcome Guest (1913)
    A Little Hero (1913)
    Some Nerve (1913)
    The Under-Sheriff (1914)
    A Flirt's Mistake (1914)
    In the Clutches of the Gang (1914)
    Mickey (1918)
    A Romance of Happy Valley (1919)
    The Turn in the Road (1919)
    When Doctors Disagree (1919)
    The Greatest Question (1919)
    Victory (1919)
    The Family Honor (1920)
    The Queen of Sheba (1921)
    The Fox (1921)
    Molly O' (1921)
    The Ghost Patrol (1923)
    The Phantom Fortune (1923)
    The Extra Girl (1923)
    The Red Lily (1924)
    The Silent Watcher (1924)
    Proud Flesh (1925)
    The Light of Western Stars (1925)
    The Goose Woman (1925)
    Rolling Home (1926)
    Flames (1926)
    Gigolo (1926)
    White Gold (1927)
    Finger Prints (1927)
    The Wedding March (1928)


    The Higher Law (1911)
    Nicholas Nickelby
    The Cry of the Children (1912)
    A Little Hero (1913)
    Fatty at San Diego (1913)
    Wine (1913)
    Fatty Joins the Force (1913)
    A Ride for a Bride (1913)
    Fatty's Flirtation (1913)
    His Sister's Kids (1913)
    He Would a Hunting Go (1913)
    The Under-Sheriff (1914)
    A Flirt's Mistake (1914)
    In the Clutches of the Gang (1914)
    Rebecca's Wedding Day (1914)
    A Robust Romeo (1914)
    Twixt Love and Fire (1914)
    A Film Johnnie (1914)
    His Favourite Pastime (1914)
    Cruel, Cruel Love (1914)
    The Star Boarder (1914)
    Ghosts (1915)


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