Director: William Beaudine. Screenplay: C. Gardner Sullivan (adaptation); George Marion Jr. (titles); from a story by Winifred Dunn. Cast: Mary Pickford, Roy Stewart, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Spec O’Donnell, Billy Butts
Molly is the role Mary Pickford was born to play. In Sparrows, Molly is the oldest among the ten orphans being kept as slaves on a potato farm. And as most Pickford characters, Molly is a sweet-but-spunky victim who fights back.
Directed by the prolific William Beaudine, and adapted by C. Gardner Sullivan from a story by Winifred Dunn, Sparrows borders on the perverse. The film’s theme is child trafficking and the filmmakers pull no punches in their depiction of that social ill. Children are either being sold into slavery to "pick bugs off pertaters," or being threatened to be "chucked in the swamp." (The fiend who keeps them imprisoned is played menacingly by silent era villain Gustav von Seyffertitz.)
One scene in particular is quite touching. As the children — hiding inside a barn — say goodbye to another child who is being sold, all they can do is stick their tiny hands through the cracks in the door and silently wave.
When Mary and her brood finally escape the baby farm, the adventure begins. They must survive quicksand, swamps, and hungry alligators on their way to freedom. Needless to say, those are processed shots; nevertheless, they are quite realistic.
The film’s biggest jaw-dropping sequence, however, is not the one in which the kids crawl across an alligator-infested river on a slowly breaking tree trunk. In fact, what most impressed me about Sparrows wasn’t the suspense, the violence, or the depravity. Instead, it was when Little Molly was futilely rocking a dying baby in her arms, as Jesus Christ himself appears with his staff and his flock of sheep. He takes the baby in his arms and walks away into the mist.
Ah, they just don’t make ’em like they used to, anymore.
© Danny Fortune