An early social commentary on the New York sex trade, this film attempts to sensationalize prostitution, especially forced prostitution. Featuring a number of characters and sub-plots, the film is presented as if it were a documentary. Written by
White slavery was a big issue especially in big cities like New York City where immigrants were coming and often found themselves employed as prostitutes or even worse they were kidnapped into the business. The story is pretty simple as a pair of sisters are torn apart when one is forced into prostitution by an evil ring of men who often just take women as they step off the boats to America. The woman's boyfriend and sister begin a search for her, which leads to the crackdown on the illegal activities. In 1913 this was a pretty controversial movie but it was also the first feature that Universal would release and needless to say it would end up making a killing at the box office. Today the film is sold as being the first exploitation movie but I think that's an unfair label because in 1913 this was meant to be a serious film tackling a serious topic. Those coming to it expecting some sort of sleaze are probably going to be disappointed because what we've basically got is a "message" film not too much unlike the countless films made by D.W. Griffith from 1910-13. The only real difference is that the subject matter here is certainly a tad bit darker than the happy-go-lucky films of Griffith. With that said, overall I think this film is quite boring and in all honesty not much of anything happens throughout the running time. I think the best moments in the movie are some of the action pieces with the highlight being a sequence at the half-way mark where the good cop gets suspicious and enters the "Swedish Employment" building and soon has the fight the pimps and try to save the women. Another good sequence happens as a couple Swedish sisters step off a boat and we're treated to a scene where a cop fixes the arrest of their brother so that they can be kidnapped. The rest of the film contains pretty much slow moving action that really just stales out the running time. At 84-minutes this here was one of the longest running movies from this era but I think a good ten or fifteen-minutes of edited footage probably would have helped the film move a lot better. The performances leave a lot to be desired and there's really no drama to speak of. I think the majority of people going into this thing are going to be disappointed so in the end it's basically just for those film buffs who might be interested in this era or sub-genre. TRAFFIC IN SOULS isn't a masterpiece and it's not even a good film but it deserves its place in history but like so many of these movies the final result isn't all that impressive.
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