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The Cry of the Children (1912)

An indicment of the evils of child labor, the film was controversial in its time for its use of actual footage of children employed in a working mill.


(as George O. Nichols)
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Cast overview:
Alice, the little girl
Ethel Wright ...
The working mother
The working father
The factory owner's wife
The factory owner


Part 1: Little Alice, more fortunate than some of the others, was not always a child slave. She was the youngest of three children, and the pet. Wages were small, but her parents and her brother and sister found it possible to feed an extra mouth, although the margin between income and expenses was pitifully scanty. So little Alice, for a time, was a happy child, and not a tiny old woman, as were the other little girls in the manufacturing town. The wife of the owner of the mill was a selfish, dissatisfied society woman. Driving out in her auto one day, she saw little Alice, and immediately was struck with the youth and beauty of the pretty child. A creature of impulse, she decided she wanted Alice for her own, and summoning the parents told them of the good fortune in store for them. Much to the rich woman's surprise, they did not see it as she did. They did not want to give the child up, and said so. The mother, however, thought of the advantages that Alice would have if she ... Written by Moving Picture World synopsis

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Short | Drama



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Release Date:

30 April 1912 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Плач ребенка  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


The film, which depicts poor factory working conditions, was released just one year after more than 100 working women were killed in a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911. Presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson cited the film by name during his 1912 campaign - using the film to illustrate President William Howard Taft's failure to protect workers. Wilson one the election. See more »

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User Reviews

An indictment of cold-hearted capitalism that still sears the screen
28 July 2006 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

This is a powerful movie, made by angry filmmakers whose indignation over the injustice they depict still packs a punch many years after the film's initial release. Unlike many dramas of its era this one won't provoke any unintended laughter today, not even when the acting looks a bit primitive or, during the climax, when a character who is deceased reappears before her awed family in the form of an angel with white feathered wings. We regard these moments with the same solemnity they must have inspired when the film was new, for the issues addressed in The Cry of the Children are no laughing matter. This film is remembered primarily as a protest against the exploitation of children by greedy capitalists, but it is also an examination of the vast disparity between the quality of life enjoyed by the Haves and endured by the Have-nots in this country. The filmmakers do not promote any specific political agenda or solution, nor do they exhort the audience to organize, strike, or overthrow the bosses; they simply tell their tale and leave you, the viewer, to mull it over and draw your own conclusions. This strikes me as a far more effective way of reaching people than to preach the gospel of any particular "ism."

The Cry of the Children was produced by the Thanhouser Company of New Rochelle, New York, a studio in existence from 1909 to 1918, and it stands as the studio's best-known release. The story presents a stark contrast between the daily lives of a mill worker, his sickly wife and their three children-- two of whom work in the factory --and the mill's wealthy owner and his pampered spouse. The worker and his family live in shabby rooms with no heating, where the children, two girls and one boy, share a single bed. There's no silverware, no china plates. When the mother coughs and clutches her chest her husband looks horrified. Does she have tuberculosis? (Forget about "health insurance" in 1912.) The family's only joy is little Alice, a curly-haired charmer who is the one member of the family not enslaved by factory work. Scenes at the mill, obviously filmed at a genuine mill and not in a studio, reveal workers who look hollow-eyed and exhausted. It's a jolt when we are suddenly introduced to the owner of this mill, seen in his home: it is luxurious, filled with overstuffed furniture and ornate fixtures. The owner and his wife are well-dressed and surrounded by servants who fuss over them and cater to their every need. Happenstance brings the mill owner's wife into contact with little Alice, and the lady is so charmed by the little girl she tries to adopt her. The worker and his family refuse to give up their daughter, even when the boss reaches for his wallet and offers them cash for their child. (And I can hear the audiences of those 1912 store-front theaters, hissing the rich couple and cheering when the working parents refuse his offer). But later, when the mill owner refuses to grant his employees a living wage, the workers go on strike and their living conditions worsen considerably. When life becomes intolerable little Alice goes to the mill owner's home and offers herself up for adoption.

I won't reveal the ending here but suffice to say it's not a cheery one. When The Cry of the Children reaches its finale you're likely to feel deflated and depressed; and then, as you think about what you've seen, you get angry. That was surely the producers' intention when they made this movie and their work, seen today, is still effective. Eventually, child labor laws were enacted that eliminated the conditions illustrated here, but the gross disparity between the lives of the working poor and the idle rich is essentially the same as ever, and just as unfair and outrageous. This old film can't be dismissed as a quaint historical artifact because it still provokes the viewer to think about this disparity, to wonder why we live like this and whether it's possible to change. Here's a film released the very month the Titanic sank that can still get your adrenalin pumping, all these years later.

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