After directing him as the title character in Huckleberry Finn, William Desmond Taylor again used boy actor Lewis Sargent in this picture... See full synopsis »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Lewis Sargent ...
Ed Simpson
Ernest Butterworth Jr. ...
Clyde Fillmore ...
Mr. Hamilton
Grace Morse ...
Mrs. Hamilton
Vera Hamilton
Elizabeth Janes ...
Ruth Hamilton
William Collier Jr. ...
Dick Armstrong
Claude Payton ...
Pete Morano
Betty Schade ...
Fred Huntley ...
Mr. Hodge
Sylvia Ashton ...
Mrs. Hodge
Russ Powell ...
Patrolman Jones
Ben Lindsey ...
Himself (as Judge Ben Lindsey)
Mrs. Ben Lindsey ...
Jane Keckley ...


After directing him as the title character in Huckleberry Finn, William Desmond Taylor again used boy actor Lewis Sargent in this picture... See full synopsis »

Add Full Plot | Plot Synopsis







Release Date:

15 August 1920 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Boy  »

Filming Locations:

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


After visiting a male brothel in Los Angeles, director William Desmond Taylor decided to include a scene in which the film's protagonist was sold into white slavery. See more »

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Somebody shot the director.
2 December 2007 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

A print of this so-called 'lost' film is in the Library of Congress, copied from a nitrate print which had an X-mark scratched into the last frames of each sequence. The print is intact with its original intertitles (some of them quite inventive). But the original tinting is lost, so we see that two day-for-night sequences were shot in broad daylight even though the titles identify them as taking place at night.

'The Soul of Youth' was directed by William Desmond Taylor. Unfortunately, any attempt to analyse Taylor's films or career is overshadowed by his notoriously unsolved murder. I believe that the solution in Sidney Kirkpatrick's book 'A Cast of Killers' is as near as we'll ever get to the truth.

This film is basically a social drama about a boy, abandoned in infancy and raised in a squalid orphanage, who attempts to make a place for himself in the world by fair or foul means. I wish that scenarist Julia Ivers (whose name appears TWICE in the opening credits) had let the power of this basic story work for itself; instead, she ladles on several subplots and needless coincidences of Dickensian dimensions. The boy (Ed Simpson) crosses paths with crooked politico Pete Morano in infancy, then crosses paths with him again in the main storyline ... but the first encounter was unnecessary to the story, and makes the second one seem contrived.

There are contrivances all through the movie. Morano and his henchmen miraculously know the identity of the man who's coming to town with documents that can put Morano in prison, and they miraculously know what train he'll be on. Morano's henchman miraculously knows which pocket of the man's jacket contains the documents, so he can surreptitiously slit just that one pocket to steal them. When young Ed climbs through Morano's window to retrieve the documents, the McGuffin papers are conveniently right there at the windowside ... so he can jump in, grab 'em and get out again.

Oddly, the actors are billed in order of appearance, as if this were a stage play. There are excellent performances here by child actors Lewis Sargent (as the orphan) and Ernest Butterworth (as a barefoot newsboy). Teenager William 'Buster' Collier Jnr is also good here, and at one point he (or his stunt double) gracefully and effortlessly leaps over a hedge. Lila Lee and child actress Elizabeth Janes are also excellent, but most of the other actors resort to silent-film histrionics of the worst sort. Betty Schade, as Morano's moll, presents him with the infant Ed while pretending she's just given birth to the child ... and, as soon as Morano turns briefly aside, her hands and face form a gloating tableau of deepest purple. In an earlier scene, when acquiring the baby while he's wrapped in a blanket, she unwraps his HEAD to discover the child's sex!

I found the scenes in the all-boy orphanage to be painfully realistic, having lived in a similar institution myself at an early age. There are two brief but surprising shots of a (black) boy entirely naked. This black boy was apparently raised in the same orphanage as the white lads, but he speaks in minstrel-show dialogue and he's named Rastus.

I was impressed by clever visual devices during several intertitles, and especially one during a fight sequence, when several boys' shouted comments radiate outward from the main title at different angles.

Benjamin Barr Lindsey, a prominent Denver jurist of this time, appears in the film as himself (with substantial screen time), and gives an ingratiating and natural performance. (A close-up of a telegram establishes that this story takes place in Denver.)

At the time of Taylor's murder in 1922, he had already established himself as an inventive silent-film director. We can only speculate what sort of career he might have had in talkies. I suspect that his career would have followed a similar arc to that of director Herbert Brenon, who achieved major success in the late silent era, then faltered badly with the arrival of sound. There are a couple of clever visual devices in 'The Soul of Youth' but also several clumsy passages; at one point, a crucial piece of plot information is conveyed via a close-up of a letter in handwriting that's unnecessarily elaborate and difficult to read. Amusingly, the film ends with a close-up of a dog's wagging tail. I'll rate 'The Soul of Youth' 6 out of 10.

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