- Sparrows (1926) movie review: In a made-to-order star vehicle, silent era icon Mary Pickford fights the evils of child trafficking.
Sparrows movie review: In William Beaudine’s pitch-perfect sentimental melodrama, a flawlessly cast Mary Pickford is a child-trafficking victim & rescuer
Sparrows’ Molly is the role Mary Pickford was born to play.
Molly is the oldest among ten orphans being kept as slaves on a potato farm (clearly somewhere in the American South), and as most Pickford characters, she is a sweet-but-spunky victim who fights back.
Directed by the prolific William Beaudine from a scenario by C. Gardner Sullivan (adapting a screen story by Winifred Dunn), and featuring a menacing Gustav von Seyffertitz as the fiendish slaveholder, 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.”
One scene is particularly touching. As the kids – 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 Molly and her brood finally escape the farm, the adventure begins: They must survive quicksand, swamps, and hungry alligators on their way to freedom. Needless to say, these are processed shots; nevertheless, they are remarkably realistic.
Sparrows’ 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 the movie wasn’t the suspense, the violence, or the depravity. Instead, it was when Little Molly is 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.
They just don’t make ’em like they used to.
Sparrows (1926) cast & crew
Director: William Beaudine.
Screenplay: C. Gardner Sullivan.
Titles: George Marion Jr.
From a screen story by Winifred Dunn.
Cast: Mary Pickford, Roy Stewart, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Charlotte Mineau, Lloyd Whitlock, Spec O’Donnell, Billy Butts.
Cinematography: Hal Mohr, Karl Struss, and Charles Rosher.
Film Editing: Harold McLernon.
Sets: Harry Oliver.
Producer: Mary Pickford (uncredited).
Production Company: The Pickford Corp.
Distributor: United Artists.
Running Time: 109 min.
Country: United States.
“Sparrows (1926) Movie Review: Spunky Mary Pickford vs. Vicious Child Traffickers” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Sparrows (1926) Movie Review” endnotes
William Beaudine directed nearly 200 features over the course of more than four decades.
Besides the 1925 Mary Pickford star vehicle Little Annie Rooney, titles include The Canadian (1926), with top silent era leading man Thomas Meighan; the all-star Hollywood-set comedy Make Me a Star (1932), with Joan Blondell and Stuart Erwin; and the Pre-Code melodrama Three Wise Girls (1932), with Jean Harlow and Mae Clarke.
Beaudine’s career went downhill in the mid-1930s, when he became stuck directing B (or worse) movies like Torchy Gets Her Man (1938) and Torchy Blane in Chinatown (1939), both with Glenda Farrell; The Ape Man (1943) and Voodoo Man (1944), both with Bela Lugosi; and the Z-grade adventure comedy Gas House Kids Go West (1947).
Sparrows movie credits via the American Film Institute (AFI) website.
Mary Pickford Sparrows movie image: United Artists.
“Sparrows (1926) Movie Review: Spunky Mary Pickford vs. Vicious Child Traffickers” last updated in December 2022.
Yes, this scene when the baby dies is very nice. I like Sparrows too.