Action / Drama


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Mary Pickford as Molly
749.87 MB
23.976 fps
1hr 24 min
P/S 0 / 6

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Ron Oliver ([email protected]) 10 / 10

Marvelous Mary In Her Final Little Girl Role

A spunky orphan girl, enslaved on a horrible baby farm, looks after the younger children as tenderly as Christ cares for His little SPARROWS.

Mary Pickford, America's Sweetheart and the most popular movie star in Hollywood's history, had made a career out of playing little girls in general & orphans in particular. Her legions of international fans thrilled at her adventures in harsh orphanages, dealing with stony-hearted adults. Time relentlessly marched on, however, and it became obvious that Little Mary could not carry on the adolescent act forever.

Thus, in 1926 at the age of 34, Pickford appeared in her final orphan picture and she made sure it was a doozy. Never before had one of her characters been subjected to such hideous conditions, surrounded by quicksand, starved & overworked, living at the mercy of a self-avowed baby killer - a reptilian old reprobate who doesn't hesitate to `chuck children into the swamp' whenever he feels like it. Mary's audiences ate it up like sweet molasses on hot cornbread.

Several sequences are memorable. The selling of a little boy to a hog-buying farmer sets up a remarkably poignant shot: as the little fellow is driven out of the gates of the baby farm he feebly waves farewell towards the barn, where Mary & the other children remain hidden; poking through cracks & crevices in the wooden structure several hands sadly wave back. Later, the coming of The Good Shepherd for the dead baby cradled in Mary's arms would have been maudlin in less reverent hands; here it succeeds because it is presented with true emotion. Finally, the escape & chase across the swamp, with desperate Mary leading eight tiny children through the perils of mud & crocodiles, is still as exciting & suspenseful now as it was at the film's inception.

Gustav von Seyffertitz makes a marvelously hissable villain; abetted by his vile wife & unspeakable son, old Grimes is evil to his very core. His final fate is both just & emphatically well-deserved.

SPARROWS boasts very high production values, and although burdened with a couple of climaxes too many, Mary's lively performance should effortlessly win over the toughest of critics.

Reviewed by aimless-46 10 / 10

A Nice Gift From the Past for Lemony Snickett Fans

United Artists in the mid-1920's stood outside the motion picture industry's block booking system. It owned no theaters and did not have enough films to offer them in blocks. This meant each of the UA producers (Griffith, Fairbanks, Chaplin, and Pickford) had to finance each film individually; not an easy thing with the rising costs of producing long features. While Griffith was digging himself into a big hole (which would ultimately cost him his production company) making epic films and trying to top his early successes, Pickford prudently operated on a smaller scale. The irony being that she produced the type of folksy stuff that Griffith had once done so well and so profitably.

"Sparrows" was her last appearance as a teenager; her choice because even in her thirties she would have been physically believable in these roles for a couple more years. Most often described as "Dickensian" because of its gloomy feel and slightly off-kilter production design, "Sparrows" is the original "Series of Unfortunate Events". It is regarded as the least dated of her pictures (maybe of all silents), fitting because it does not seem at all dated. Even the humor seems contemporary with little Molly misquoting bible verses with stuff like: "Let not thy right cheek know what thy left cheek is getting".

"Sparrows" is also more perennially appealing than any silent film. In fact you have to go all the way until 1933's "It Happened One Night" to actually supplant it. But it is a serious subject as baby farms are a historical fact and wealthy parents had reasons to fear kidnapping. The kidnapping in "Sparrows" has an eerie similarity to that of the Lindbergh baby, which would not take place until seven years "after" the film.

The "look" of the film reflects the German expressionist style and should delight Lemony Snicket fans and anyone who gets off on creepy-strange beauty. Set designer Harry Oliver "aged the tree stumps with blowtorches, and the entire picture has that netherworld quality of a slightly stylized environment that could only be created in a movie studio". Watch for the early scene where the baby farm operator crushes the little doll and drops it into the quicksand where it slowly disappears.

You also see a lot of Pickford's technique in Hal Roach's "Little Rascals". Check out the sequence when Little Splutters is leaving and his imprisoned friends are waving goodbye from inside the barn, by passing their hands through the slats. In fact Spec O'Donnell, who plays nasty stepson Ambrose, would later be a Roach regular. He is responsible for the film's first big laugh when he beans Molly with a turnip while she is trying to get the baby to stop crying. It is totally unexpected and even the baby finds it funny.

Also of note is the dream sequence where Jesus comes to take the baby to heaven. Modern special effects could not improve on what they got using a simple matte exposure process. A similar technique worked so well with the swamp scenes that a legend grew up that Pickford and the children were actually at risk from the live alligators used in the scenes. Probably no silent managed a more genuinely suspenseful sequence than when they are crossing a rotting tree limb which is slowly cracking and dipping toward the water full of hungry alligators.

Gustav von Seyffertitz does great as the evil Mr. Grimes (an early Snidley Whiplash) and is one of the best bad guys to come out of the silent era.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Reviewed by lugonian 5 / 10

Orphans of the Swamps

SPARROWS (United Artists, 1926), directed by William Beaudine, is a prime example of good vs. evil with a timeless story centering upon abducted children, mostly orphans, being held in bondage on an isolated location surrounded by treacherous swamps and quicksand where they are put through slave labor with little nutrition, only a potato for each, as well as living in constant fear from a "family man" named Mr. Grimes, who threatens to throw them into the swamp if they don't behave. Headlining the cast of not-so-well known actors is Mary Pickford, one of the top names of the silent screen, whose performance in SPARROWS has been singled out as the finest and most revived of her long list of film credits. Better known as "America's Sweetheart," Pickford, as one of the "sparrows" (title inspired by the Biblical quotation concerning the Lord's attention even to the most humble sparrow) is convincing as the eldest and mother figure to the enslaved children, in spite of being a woman in her thirties, yet, this being her farewell performance as the little girl with pig tails, it's the sort of role moviegoers and film historians remember her best.

The opening inter-titles gives much indication as to what's to be seen: "The devil's share in the world's creation was a certain southern swampland - a masterpiece of horror and the Lord appreciating a good job, let it stand," followed by an overview of the location from where the story is set, "Then the devil went himself one better - and had Mr. Grimes live in the swamp." Grimes (Gustav Von Seyffertitz) is then introduced as the title cards read, going one better, seen limping through the swamp land with mosquitoes flying around his head, acquiring a doll to be given to a little girl on his farm, then crushing the doll's head and throwing it into the quicksand as he watches it slowly sinking. Next introduction is Mollie (Mary Pickford) along with the other little orphans flying her kite with a message for help attached. The kite flies away in the wind only to be caught on a tree branch. There goes her plea for help! The "sparrows" must hide in the barn whenever the bell rings so that they won't be visible to visitors buying hogs from Mr. Grimes. As the story progresses, Grimes acquires a two-year-old girl (Mary Louise Miller) from a couple of abductors, unaware that she is the daughter of millionaire David Wayne (Roy Stewart). When Grimes learns of the child's identity in the newspapers, and that police are on his trail, he attempts to dispose of the evidence by throwing her into the swamp, but Mollie prevents this, first by using a pitchfork as a weapon against Grimes, and later making a daring escape taking the baby and the other "sparrows" with her, risking their lives through the swamps, quicksand and very hungry crocodiles. With this being the highlight, it is followed by a second climatic scene that fails to recapture the initial thrill.

With the exception of Pickford and the child actors, much of the supporting players are very much like the Charles Dickens novels, unsympathetic types. Grimes is evil beyond belief; his wife (played by Charlotte Mineau) is an ignorant country woman with some common sense, but not quite as pleasant, while their son, Ambrose (Spec O'Donnell) is quite brutal, especially when he pleasures himself by bullying the sparrows, mainly the defenseless ones, ranging from a stuttering youngster to a lame boy bearing crutches.

Throughout the years, SPARROWS has been available in alternate versions, not in terms of length or missing scenes, but in music accompaniment. When the Museum of Modern Art in New York City had a tribute to Mary Pickford in June 1979, the very year of her death, SPARROWS was presented to an attentive audience with a slow pacing piano score, the same print shown in the 1982-83 public television's weekly series of "Sprockets." Distributed on video cassette through various distributors, ranging from those with an organ score by Gaylord Carter, piano or no score at all, Turner Classic Movies shows it on it's own "Silent Sunday Nights" equipped with piano score by William Perry from the Paul Killian collection, having the 1970s "Silent Years" feel to it.

As good as the story goes in regards to sentiment, suspense and limited doses of comedy, SPARROWS leaves some questions unanswered, one in particular regarding the father of Doris Wayne. With the only other female residing in his mansion being a private nurse, whatever became of the mother? Is he divorced or widowed? As for Pickford's character, she comes across as self-confident, religious and never losing her faith, praying to the Good Lord in hope that someday she and the nine other "sparrows" will obtain their long awaited freedom. One poignant scene occurs with Molly holding a dead baby in her arms as she envisions Jesus Christ approaching her and taking the infant with Him to Heaven.

Of the handful of screen villains at that time, such as Ernest Torrence or Tully Marshall, Von Seyffertitz comes across as very sinister, coming close to the physical resemblance to Max Schreck in the German made NOSFERATU (1922). In spite of a few weaknesses found in the screenplay, it's almost a perfect film. Only debit happens to be humorous scenes that seem to not fit into this atmospheric setting. It's also quite surprising that a movie with a touch of D.W. Griffith to be directed by William Beaudine, better known today more for his low-budget productions in later years.

With a majority of silent movies remade during the sound era, it's amazing that as popular as SPARROWS has become, that it wasn't redone. A remake with Anne Shirley as Mollie and Edward Ellis or Arthur Hohl as Grimes might have worked as good casting. However, as remakes go, very few have ever recaptured the success of the original. (***)

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