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The Cry of the Children1912

  • 4.1
THE CRY OF THE CHILDREN is the most famous and best documented of all Thanhouser films. In its day it was recognized as one of the most important expressions of the pre-World War One reform movement, in particular child labor. Perhaps because the uncompromising content drew all the attention, the film was not then recognized as the artistic masterpiece it is. The title and basic outline of the scenario were taken from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's popular poem which was quoted in the intertitles. The antique sentimental quality of the poem contrasts sharply with the gritty realism of the visual images. Likewise, the story contrasts scenes of the mill owner's home life with that of the poor working family. An unsuccessful strike, poverty, death and hardship threaten to tear the poor family apart. Although location work was frequent in those days, the real factory setting was unusual and strikingly authentic. Dramatic depiction of the poor family is largely understated. The remarkably fluid editing foreshadows the editing style that became commonplace in the 1920's. Lap dissolves are used for psychological effect, and subtle and skillful camera tilting follows the actors. Excellent staging usually emphasizes depth and fore-to-back movement, and groups are handled well. Twice as long as most films of that period, the picture reflected Edwin Thanhouser's advocacy of "natural length" films rather than the standard one-reel film demanded by exhibitors for commercial reasons. Although some elements of the story are melodramatic, clichés are to be expected from that era. However, the cinematic skill and social importance certainly contributed to a new social-realism style. The film marked the emerging political power of film, and the potential for making contributions to society.

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1 member likes this review

I should qualify this by saying I am a labor historian of this time period. But this is an amazing silent film about a powerful issue that affected millions of families during the early twentieth century--child labor and the low wages for adults that required it. Of course the same system has now been recreated for western consumption in China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and many other nations. It was horrible then and horrible now. Films like this were useful then in rallying people for change in the U.S.. Hopefully they can be on a worldwide scale today.

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Member Reviews (2)

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top reviewer

I should qualify this by saying I am a labor historian of this time period. But this is an amazing silent film about a powerful issue that affected millions of families during the early twentieth century--child labor and the low wages for adults that required it. Of course the same system has now been recreated for western consumption in China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and many other nations. It was horrible then and horrible now. Films like this were useful then in rallying people for change in the U.S.. Hopefully they can be on a worldwide scale today.

1 member likes this review

Grim, helped exposed the horror and cruelty of child labor.