"The baby died...poor, lucky, little devil..."
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 06/28/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"When I first heard the title of this film, Tomorrow's Children (1934), I thought it was perhaps some sort of futuristic science fiction tale, but what I actually got was a cinematic railing against the practice of forced sterilization. Scoff if you will (I did), but apparently this wasn't an uncommon practice. It's estimated nearly some 60,000 people in the U.S. were subjected to this program, beginning sometime around 1907 and continued up until the 1970's, most prevalent during the 1930's and 1940's. Proponents pushed the eugenics factor of the program, hoping to use it as a means to breed out genetic defects by stopping a bloodline (convicted criminals were often offered less prison time if they acquiesced to the procedure), but opponents often cited the victims were generally either poor and/or of minority groups. Essentially what it boiled down to is if the gooberment thought your bloodline had some sort of `taint', they could legally force a surgical procedure on you to prevent you from ever having children. Directed by Crane Wilbur (High School Girl, The Bat), the film stars Diane Sinclair (Damaged Lives), Donald Douglas (Tarzan and the Amazons), and Carlyle Moore Jr. (High School Girl). Also appearing is Arthur Wanzer (High School Girl), Sarah Padden (Joe Palooka, Champ), Sterling Holloway (probably best know as the voice of Winnie the Pooh), and the director himself as the character of Father O'Brien.
As the film begins we meet a young couple named Jim Baker (Moore) and Alice Mason (Sinclair). They talk of marriage and have dreams of babies, breakfast nooks, and radios (this was the 30s', so the radio was pretty much it for your home entertainment center). Problem is Alice doesn't feel comfortable leaving her family behind, especially since she's the main source of income (besides welfare), and her mother has just had a miscarriage (Ma Mason looks a little long in the tooth to be getting pregnant, but I suppose having kids ages you somewhat...Pa ain't no spring chicken either). As Dr. Brooks (Douglas) brings Ma (Padden) home, he learns (as we do), the rest of the family ain't doing all that hot as Pa is a rummy (he lika the drink, he lika it a lot), two of the boys are feeble-minded (a common term back in the day), a third is a congenital cripple (another common term back in the day), and a fourth in jail...gee, they seem like the perfect candidates for selective eugenics...anyway, upon seeing their plight (Pa, by the way, could care less about Ma losing the baby as it's one less mouth to feed), makes a report to the state welfare board in hopes of getting them some much needed extra assistance, but the result is a couple of smooth talking state officials arrive and convince Ma and Pa that the best thing for them is state subsidized sterilization, the including the kids...which means Alice, who is only 17 and seems not afflicted with the family `taint', has no choice in the matter (neither did the parents, as the state threatened to withhold welfare money of they resisted). Not wanting her baby factory shut down, Alice takes it on the lam but gets nabbed by the bulls. Alice gets a hearing, with Dr. Brooks present (feeling quite guilty), but it's of no use...it's the knife for Alice, unless Jim and Dr. Brooks can find a way to stop the state sponsored madness...
Despite the extremely heavy-handed attempt to push forth the message that forced sterilization is a bad thing (both sides are presented, but it's obvious pretty early on which camp the writer resides in), I actually enjoyed this film, melodrama and all (when I say enjoyed, I mean I laugh my, well, you know, off). The funniest thing about the film is the sense of necessity of the writer and the director to feel like they had to show the very most extreme situations in order to best get their point across. This is illuminated by a hilarious scene involving a criminal getting the big `V' in order to reduce his jail sentence, and during the operation he keeps talking about how they'll never cut the `bad' out of him, and when he gets out, he's going to raise as much hell as he ever did...another scene involved an obviously deranged individual with giant eyebrows and pasty pallor (played up for effect) just before he's about to go before the judge for his hearing on whether or not he's to be sterilized...just before he goes into court he rips a nurse's dress off and leers at her half nekkid form, just so we know the guy is a real psycho (subtly isn't a strength in this film)...but a well connected psycho as he gets off due to the fact his parents are very wealthy and have many influential friends, including a senator, who actually appears on the crazed man's behalf...oh bruther...this was an obvious attempt to `display' the inequities between the poor and disenfranchised and the wealthy and influential....I got news for you, no matter what issue we're talking about, the wealthy will always have an edge over the rest...that's one of the benefits of being wealthy. There's a good deal of superficial talk about moralistic and societal concerns, the `justifiable' benefits and obvious shortcomings of such programs, along with individual rights vs. the public good. There's also a bit in the middle as Dr. Brooks outlines the specifics of the procedure (in both men and women) to an uneducated man about to go under the knife (half the people in the film, probably as well as the audience, knew what sterilization was...'Steril-whut?'). The acting is so so, nothing spectacular and the direction decent. One of the best things about this film (beside the unintentional hilarity) is the pacing is very quick, cramming a whole lot of material into a mere 52 minute run time, leading up to an exciting and tense climax at the end.
This Alpha Video DVD release actually features something I'm not accustom to with their usual releases, a decent picture...and to top it off, the audio comes across very strong...neither are perfect, but much better than I would have expected. There really aren't any special features in relation to the film, but there are previews for a number of craptacular, direct-to-video low budget/no budget films including post apocalyptic schlocker titled Blood of the Beast (2003), Just Add Pepper (2002), Candy Von Dewd (2002), Magdalen (1998), A Chronicle of Corpses (2000), The Devil's Filmmaker: Bohica (2003), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2002)...actually, this last one looks very decent, along with some DVD double features including Jan-Gel 3: Hillbilly Monster/Grandparents from Outer Space and Jan-Gel, the Beast from the East/Jan-Gel 2: The Beast Returns...why is it every schmuck with a video camera fancies himself a director? Probably for the same reasons I fancy myself a critic...
By the way, the most horrifying aspect of this film was that relating to Ma's miscarriage...horrifying because it led me to the supposition that Ma and Pa Mason were still engaging in the horizontal mambo which is a thought no one should have to be subjected to...
Scary exploitation--and a look at a very dark aspect of our
Matthew G. Sherwin | last seen screaming at Amazon customer service | 03/27/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Tomorrow's Children is one of those early, low budget talkie films that are remarkably and embarrassingly dated. The language used to refer to persons with developmental disabilities and people who are physically disabled is not desirable; but that's the way people spoke at the time. The plot moves along at a good pace; and this is a good thing because the entire film is a whopping 52 minutes long. The casting is good except for the older Mason couple; they appear too old to be bringing babies into the world. Otherwise, for its time and budget, the cinematography is good and the choreography works well. The film is clearly making its point against eugenics; this was probably a "liberal" belief at the time.
When the action begins we quickly meet Alice Mason (Diane Sinclair) and her fiancé Jim Baker (Carlyle Moore Jr.). Jim is eager to marry Alice; and although she wants to marry him she worries about her family--she's the sole breadwinner and they need her. Mr. and Mrs. Mason (Arthur Wanzer and Sarah Padden) drink way too much and they cannot hold work although they use the Great Depression as an excuse to not even try to look for work. Instead, the Masons have yet another child while Alice works! Alice has a younger brother who is developmentally disabled; one of her brothers is in jail and another has a bum leg so he can't walk much. Therefore, Dr. Brooks, a kindly family practitioner, refers their case to the state welfare board--but to keep the much needed welfare assistance the Masons must sign paperwork authorizing sterilization for the family!
Alice Mason is extremely upset by this but her parents sign her paperwork regardless of her feelings. Jim, of course, is quite upset and so is Dr. Brooks who doesn't believe Alice has "tainted" blood in her. The judge in the court, however, recommends that Alice be sterilized. Of course, this same judge is not above giving out favors to his cronies when it's their own children who need to be sterilized--the judge "conveniently" looks the other way and issues an order against their surgeries. Some judge he is!
Of course, the plot can go anywhere from here. What will or can Mr. and Mrs. Mason do, if anything, to reverse their decision about having Alice sterilized? Will Alice, Jim and Dr. Brooks be able to convince the judge to change the court order? What about Mrs. Mason--is she hiding a secret that could explode the whole issue wide open? Watch and find out!
The DVD doesn't come with many extras. The quality of the print is actually rather good and the sound quality is also pretty good. I never had any trouble understanding what people were saying.
Overall, Tomorrow's Children holds your attention and it makes its point with drama in a snappy 52 minutes. Despite the drawback of the embarrassing use of inappropriate language to refer to disabled people, I would recommend it for people who study social issues from the past. Some of the people who enjoy early talkie movies will want to consider this for their collections, too.