Children of Eve (1915)

Making my somewhat slow way through Kino’s The Devil’s Needle and Other Tales of Vice and Redemption, this film has a bit more of the latter than the former. Children is a social message story, or so it at least would like you to think; much like the last film we saw, what really beats at the heart of this thing is melodrama rather than any real interest in seriously critiquing the shabby industrial practices it depicts. There’s a family story to be told here! Never mind the problems of capitalism… Anyway, our story begins in the tenements, young upcoming businessman begets illegitimate child on the Broadway floozy in the next apartment; dad grows up to be a successful factory owner who adopts his nephew on his brother’s death, while mum dies in the tenements, baby is brought up by someone else and has fallen in with Bad People. Meanwhile, dad is not only rich, he’s turned into a prick, and nephew grows up to kind of fight people like him and stand up for the Little People he’s exploiting. Film proceeds, boy meets girl, boy reforms girl, girl joins in the good fight, catastrophe strikes in the climax, a factory fire (based on this) which is probably the one really good thing about the film… DVD booklet notes call director John H. Collins a rising star of American cinema whose short career was abruptly terminated by the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918; obviously I only have this to go on—I rather doubt that many if any of his other films even exist now—but this doesn’t give me a “rising star” impression. Certainly Collins doesn’t seem to have been terribly bothered about getting subtle performances from his actors; maximum melodrama and bluntly Christian piety instead… Still, interesting to see things culminate in another tragic ending, and it does bear out some of the things said on that Edison boxset I reviewed a long time ago about Edison gradually moving from his fairly sensational early kinetoscope shorts to more respectable fare that wouldn’t unduly trouble anyone (like censors). Which, ultimately, may be this film’s real problem, it doesn’t seem to want to try hard enough to bother the viewer beyond making them tut-tut the naughty capitalist, and the rest of the film is a bit too meh to be enough to compensate…

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