A Nice Gift From the Past for Lemony Snickett Fans
Only-A-Child | 06/29/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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 playing a teenager and even though in her thirties she probably 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 but it deals with 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 that 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."
Fine Mary Pickford vehicle
Matthew G. Sherwin | last seen screaming at Amazon customer service | 10/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sparrows is a great Mary Pickford vehicle that keeps your attention throughout. The superb acting, the very well constructed sets, and the excellent cinematography all combine to create this motion picture masterpiece.
The action begins on a "baby farm" run by the evil Mr. Grimes (Gustave von Seyffertitz) and his wife Mrs. Grimes (Charlotte Mineau). The Grimes use very young children to labor in their rundown fields planting and harvesting vegetables. The eldest child, Molly (Mary Pickford) works hard and also looks out for the rest of the children who seem several years younger than she. Mr. Grimes has no heart--he sends them to bed without supper after they spend all day toiling in his fields; and he rings a bell whenever visitors come so that the kids of the baby farm know to hide. Grimes doesn't want it known that it is he running the baby farm.
Eventually, there is a new addition to the baby farm. Mr. Grimes gets the very young little girl of a wealthy family; her name is Doris Wayne (Mary Louise Miller). When Doris's father (Roy Stewart) finds out she's been kidnapped, he contacts the police and they quickly organize a manhunt for the men who kidnapped little Doris and took her to Grimes's baby farm.
Meanwhile, Grimes want to bury the evidence--literally. He decides to throw little baby Doris in the quicksand of the nearby swamp so that the police can never find her and so that he will never be charged with any crime. When Molly hears of this she quickly concocts a plan for her and the smaller children to escape through the swamp, across a small creek filled with live alligators and eventually to safety and better homes.
Of course the plot can go anywhere from here. As Mr. Grimes knows, escape is nearly impossible through the quicksand of the swamp. How will Molly guide the children through that? How will they avoid the alligators of the swamp? Will they be successful at escaping the baby farm? What will happen to Mr. and Mrs. Grimes if they do escape from the farm? Watch and find out!
The choreography works well in scenes on the farm. Molly and the son of Mr. Grimes, Ambrose (Spec O'Donnell) fight it out once or twice and the choreography really enhances these scenes. The cinematography impresses me: They made it seem that Molly and the children really were very, very close to the live alligators. However, as one reviewer correctly notes, the alligators were filmed separately and the film was patched together to create the illusion that the alligators were very close.
The DVD comes with two extras; both are shorts from 1910 when D. W. Griffith directed Mary Pickford in a number of films. On this DVD we get Wilful Peggy and The Mender of Nets. These two films let us see a rather young Mary Pickford already acting every bit of the pro that she always was. Great! The prints are in excellent condition for their age, too. Amazon notes above that there is a documentary with Whoopi Goldberg; but there was no such extra on the disc that I received.
Overall, Sparrows is an excellent film starring the immortal Mary Pickford; her acting impresses me every step of the way. Look for a fine, convincing performance by Gustave von Seyffertitz as the evil Mr. Grimes; and Spec O'Donnell does a great job playing the son of Mr. and Mrs. Grimes as well.
Samantha Kelley | USA | 07/07/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Sparrows is set in a swamp, land where orphans are housed. Their lives are miserable but they feel they cannot escape without being brutally punished. Not all of the children located in the swamp are even orphans; one baby has been kidnapped from a wealthy couple in order for the corrupt heads of the "orphanage" can make a large profit. Finally, the children had had enough torture. Led by the oldest orphan (Mary Pickford), they attempt escape with angry men and the harsh environment on their trail.
Although this movie has its slow moments, Mary is once again successful in holding her audience. It is too bad she couldn't have children. She was great at caring for the orphans in this movie on and off film. The movie is adventurous and fun and one's heart goes out to the children on the screen."
My first Mary Pickford Movie
Jahlaune Hunt | Brooklyn, NY | 11/08/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I found this a great movie. It was really good. It held my intrest and contrary to some other reviewers that shall remain nameless. So what if the alligators aren't real it's the 20's and a silent pic for christ sake not the terminator!!!
I highly reccomend this movie to any one who is new to silents."