|Index||3 reviews in total|
This melodrama was made for the specific purpose of dramatizing the
need for reform in the child labor laws of its era, and it makes that
point well. The plot is somewhat dependent on coincidence, but in a
sense that goes with its implied point, namely that the child labor
situation would be ignored unless something unexpected inspired those
with sufficient influence to do something about it.
The story contrasts a working class family, reduced to depending on a still-young daughter for income in the local textile mill, with the family of a wealthy businessman who is insensitive to the problems of child labor. The story that ties them together works pretty well in making its points. The characters are believable, and the settings do a decent job for their era of establishing the atmosphere.
While the specific problem that the movie addresses may no longer be a significant concern in most places, the film is interesting in preserving the essence of a situation that, in its day, cried out for reform. Each generation has its own such needs, and some of the general lessons are still valid.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The scandal of children factory workers was already in the news - the
year before the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire had killed
146 sweatshop workers, most of them young girls, then in January 1912,
25,000 workers went on strike at the American Woollen Company, many of
them young children. Edison was the first studio to tackle the theme in
"Children Who Labor" with an all star cast!! This is more like the
Edison pictures I've often read about - static, people grouped in
tableaux as opposed to acting and very false and stagey looking sets.
There are no jobs on offer at the local factory so an unemployed immigrant tearfully consents to his young daughter (Viola Dana) finding work. Meanwhile a little rich girl walks into their midst. She has gotten off the train to retrieve a dropped toy, the train leaves the station and, distraught, she is taken into the poor man's family. Soon she too must take her place on the factory floor.
Her family, meanwhile, are in a deep depression, the rich father combating it through hard work. He eventually buys the factory where his little girl is working but fate seems against them ever meeting. Until she collapses through exhaustion and at the end gives an impassioned speech to her parents which seems to result in a more humane policy at the factory - with children going off to school instead of to work.
Little Shirley Mason really excelled in her part as the little rich girl. She was the little sister of Viola Dana and even though the film was one of their first jobs, Viola commented later that it was Shirley who the Edison company really wanted - "she was so cute and clever that I just trailed along"!!
The horrors of child labor are examined in this melodrama that cleverly
exposes the rank hypocrisy of captains of industry.
In the textile company's greedy attempt to maximize profit it turns to cheap child labor instead of hiring able bodied men. Faced with starving an impoverished father wrestles with allowing his children to be exploited in the mills. Civic minded citizens plead with the mill owner to rescind the practice but he refuses. In an ironic twist the owner's small daughter gets separated from family and is found and taken in by the poor family who eventually reunites her with father curing him of his "family egotism" and allowing him to see the light and everyone else to live happily ever after. If it had only happened that way.
Until child labor laws were enacted later in the century children were exploited in huge numbers. Children who Labor is to be commended for its socially conscious attempt to expose this abominable practice to a larger audience in a work of fiction.
To see it in more graphic and realistic terms I would recommend the documentary photographs of Lewis Hine on children and living conditions of the city's lower classes during this period. They had a great effect on the public and brought changes in the law. Children of Labor I would venture made many in its audience rethink their position on the subject as well.
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