Lois Weber’s work is always an interpretive challenge for the modern viewer but her films are precious primary evidence: gobbets of accepted wisdom and contemporary morality frozen in celluloid as surely as mosquitoes captured in amber. Our mission, should we chose to accept it, is to understand the reasons why by examining the historical context rather than taking a quick look through the prism of hind-sight.
Having read a number of reviews and comments many, for example, cannot avoid mentioning Eugenics and then making a direct link to its interpretation and implementation in Germany in the late 20’s and beyond.
|Admiring a product of eugenics|
|Souls await the birthing call behind the pearly gates|
This film is pro-choice but of a different kind. Amazingly abortion wasn’t outlawed in the USA until the 1860s and two generations down the line back-street terminations came with no guarantee of medical competence. Weber’s film is firmly against these practices preferring instead the kind of education about and practice of birth control as espoused by Margaret Sanger who was her inspiration here and specifically for one of the film’s two court room scenes.
|The slums and their consequences|
|Dr Homer tries to make his case|
|Mrs Walton and her dog|
Richard’s sister (Marjorie Blynn) has contracted an “eugenics marriage” and her off-spring will be inevitably fit, healthy and well-provided for. Cursed be those who pass up this opportunity and Weber is relentless in her disapproving view of the lounging classes, one dog for every aborted child and a relentless round of coffee mornings at each other’s opulent abodes.
|Dr. Malfit's malpractice|
|"...bold methods..." in action|
No spoilers: The film is still hard-hitting and the final sequence is a poignant one… dear reader, a handkerchief may well be required.
|The souls of the newly-conceived appear on their mothers' shoulders...|
The film caused some controversy but broke records in such places as New York and Atlantic City (was that you Nucky?I). A comparison could be drawn with Birth of a Nation which was banned in Boston on the grounds of its depiction of the races whilst Pennsylvania banned this film on the grounds that it was “filth”… things were obviously moving too fast for the Quaker State but these issues remain controversial in some sections of society.
|Marie Walcamp and Tyrone Power|
Postscript: The film was *almost* shown in London recently but cancelled the day before screening… does controversy linger still over Lois Webster’s work? Hopefully it can be re-scheduled...