Sparrows (1926)

“Please come and take us away from the Grimses cause they are awful mean to us.”

Synopsis:
A teenaged orphan (Mary Pickford) cares for a group of younger children hidden away on a swamp-filled “baby farm” run by cruel Mr. Grimes (Gustav von Seyffertitz) and his wife (Charlotte Mineau). When Mr. Grimes takes in the kidnapped baby (Mary Louise Miller) of a millionaire (Roy Stewart), Pickford decides it’s time to finally help her “siblings” try to escape.

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Review:
Mary Pickford’s next-to-last silent film represented a return to her earlier success playing heroines much younger than her actual age (which was 34 at the time). Sparrows is now widely acclaimed as not only one of Pickford’s best titles, but as a top-notch “horror” film of the silent era, given its wonderfully atmospheric Expressionist sets and its almost fairy tale-like portrayal of a group of innocents seeking escape from their tyrannical oppressor. Interestingly, it was directed by the notorious William “One-Shot” Beaudine, whose laughably awful later films (see here, here, and here) show absolutely no indication of his earlier success in silent cinema (and to be fair, he simply must have done multiple takes when shooting this film — how could he not, when working with a passel of child actors?). Meanwhile, the storyline itself remains fascinating simply as a glimpse of the practice known as “baby farming” (a term no longer in use, but sadly once quite prevalent).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Mary Pickford as “Mama Molly”
  • An interesting depiction of the evils of “baby farming”
  • Fine art direction and sets
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, to see Pickford in her final “child” role. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Sparrows (1926)”

  1. Not must-see, but of some interest for its place in cinema history.

    I probably mentioned elsewhere that I tend to be a little tough when it comes to designating which silents should be must-sees. It’s regrettable to a degree but, in the same way that many film viewers don’t take in contemporary documentaries, many also don’t explore silents. So, when I watch or rewatch silents now, I tend to point out the ones that I believe make the largest impressions.

    ‘Sparrows’ isn’t a bad film – it’s reasonably compelling and it moves fairly quickly. Pickford’s performance is also a plus. I don’t feel it’s among the best of silent films but it’s worthwhile-enough for a look.

    Fave sequence: When an infant dies in sleeping Pickford’s arms, one side of the barn opens up in fantasy fashion to reveal Jesus (in a meadow), who then enters the barn to take the dead baby away.

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