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While prosecuting a physician for the death of a client after an abortion, the district attorney discovers that his wife helped her society friends and the daughter of her maid obtain and pay for abortions from the physician (and was perhaps herself also a client.) Written by
A dramatization about Eugenics, Birth Control and Abortion
This is a fascinating film as regards how fundamental moral issues could be shown on cinema during the 1910s and how moral values have shifted since then. Even more strongly than D.W. Griffith defends the superiority of the white race and how it should be defended. The film is in the first place defending eugenics, i.e. the fact that the reproduction of people with desired traits should be encouraged and reproduction of people with undesired traits should be reduced. The enthusiastic adoption of this theory by Nazi Germany demonstrated how pernicious it was. The film postulates that there are three categories of babies waiting to be born, the "chance" children, going forth to earth in vast numbers, the "unwanted" souls, that were constantly "sent back" and bore the sign of the serpent (devil?), and those souls fine and strong, sent forth only on prayer and marked with the approval of the Almighty. This explains the position taken by the main protagonist, District Attorney Walton: he thinks that there is no reason to prosecute somebody defending birth control, as he is working with poor people producing children who from a eugenics point of view are deemed undesirable. On the other hand he is deeply shocked when he discovers that his wife and her friends, who from the same eugenics point of view would produce perfect children, are getting abortions because motherhood would interfere with their leisurely life. It is therefore not an anti-abortion film, as it is now regarded by some people, but a film about the wrong people undertaking abortion. The unwanted children are just "sent back" to heaven. What is also striking, given the fact that the film was made by a female director, Lois Weber, together with her husband Phillips Smalley, is the very negative depiction of women. They are liberated enough to drive their own cars but the only thing in their life seems to be having drinks or tea together and refusing motherhood out of pure selfishness. This is all the more surprising that the person who inspired the scene of the man prosecuted for publishing a book about birth control was actually a woman, Margaret Sanger. Why did Lois Weber turn this positive female character into a man? Note also the patriarchal approach, Walton doesn't ask "Where are our children?" but "Where are my children?").
From the cinematographic point of view, the film presents several interesting characteristics. Acting is quite natural for the time and cross-cutting is used very efficiently. While camera movements are limited to a few small pans, the frequent change of camera angles and shots gives a dynamic editing. Lighting is also very creative, notably the use of back-lighting for the close-ups of female stars. The last scene with the couple getting old together with the ghosts of the children appearing at various ages is quite convincing.
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