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Human Wreckage (1923)

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An attorney's wife is determined to fight the evils of addictive substances.


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Credited cast:
Ethel MacFarland (as Mrs. Wallace Reid)
James Kirkwood ...
Alan MacFarland
Mary Finnegan
George Hackathorne ...
Jimmy Brown
Mrs. Brown
Robert McKim ...
Dr. Hillman
Harry Northrup ...
Steve Stone
Victory Bateman ...
Mother Finnegan
Eric Mayne ...
Dr. Blake
Otto Hoffman ...
Philip Sleeman ...
George Clark ...
The Baby
Lucille Ricksen ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Peggy Ahern
Mrs. Chester Ashley ...
Herself - Educator


Ethel McFarland presents her attorney husband, Alan, with the case of a dope addict named Jimmy Brown. With the help of Alan's impassioned defense, Jimmy gets aquitted. Alan feels the pressures of his job and is introduced to a doctor at his club. When he becomes addicted, he is blackmailed by his peddlers to represent their friends in court. Jimmy, now off the smack and a taxi driver, hears of these goings on. When he discovers that his passenger is the leader of the dope ring, he resolvs to aide the war on narcotics by crashing the vehicle head-on into an oncoming train, killing them both. Alan gets treated for his addiction and begins to fight the pushers in court, all the while, pushing for stronger laws against addictive substances. At the film's close, the film's producer, Dorothy Davenport, who also plays Ethel, and who's husband Wallace Reid died of a drug overdose, adresses the audience, imploring them to support her in her crusade to wipe out the narcotic menace in the ... Written by Kieran Kenney

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Crime | Thriller | Drama




Release Date:

17 June 1923 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Decadência Humana  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


When this silent film opened in New York at the Lyric Theatre on 42nd Street, the musical arrangement was by J. Frank Cork (who conducted the orchestra), and Eleanor Gates sang "Gentle Maiden" during the film. See more »

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User Reviews

Mrs. Reid's Anti-Drug Expose Via the Thomas Ince Studio
30 October 2011 | by (Washington, DC) – See all my reviews

Unique in all respects was Human Wreckage, released on June 17, 1923 by Film Booking Offices (F.B.O.), a production and distribution company that had emerged a year earlier as a result of a reorganization of Robertson-Cole (R-C Pictures). F.B.O. catered to independent theater chains, usually offering lower-budget product.

Dorothy Davenport Reid (1895-1977), the daughter of a family of noted thespians, had been married to Wallace Reid for almost ten years when he died on January 18, 1923 as a result of drug addiction induced by morphine first given as medication after an accident. She had left the screen in 1917 after the birth of their children, but now decided to resume her career and to also go behind the camera, first as a producer, and later as a director and writer as well, continuing in these capacities until 1955. The decision was a necessity; Reid had died leaving debts and almost no estate.

Wallace Reid had worked at Inceville for producer Thomas Ince, and the Ince and Reid families struck up a friendship that continued through the years. Dorothy too had worked in Inceville, and it was not to Reid's former studio, Paramount, that she turned. Mrs. Reid and Elinor Ince had long been close friends, and her boys were friends of her son.

"One day, Nell drove over to see me, in her kindly, sweet way, to see if she could help me in my hour of bereavement and affliction. As we talked, it came to me that Tom Ince, her husband, was the one man I knew in pictures who would help me to do this thing.

"I asked her if she would take him that message from me, if she would tell him it was an idea born of the demands of others and of my great grief that seemed yearning for some expression."

As I outline in my Ince biography, an interest in the subject matter was compatible with the concern shown for alcoholism in Ince's earlier movies The Family Skeleton (1918) and Partners Three (1919). Elinor conveyed Mrs. Reid's idea, and within days of Wallace Reid's death a deal was signed for two films that would give her a 50% share of their profit. She was to become "the Jeanne d'Arc against 'dope'," according to Ince publicity.

Human Wreckage was originally entitled The Living Dead, and Ince resolved to produce and direct himself before deciding to turn it over to his primary director, John Griffith Wray. C. Gardner Sullivan was engaged to assist in the writing, based on a story by Will Lambert, entitled "Dope," and a novelization of the final script was written by Don H. Eddy. Mrs. Reid was paid $500 a week during the production, and recalled, "I did a great deal of work on the script; the supervision, trying to keep it as realistic as possible. I thought it came out well. I thought it accomplished its purpose. It was not just a contribution to the picture business, but a contribution to a cause." She also toured to promote the movie.

Mrs. Reid, introduced in a prologue, explains how she has chosen the screen to convey her message, as the story begins. In depicting the evil of narcotics, Human Wreckage opens by showing the route from the poppy fields of Asia, through Mexico, into the hands of smugglers, to dealers selling to children and soldiers, and a mother using opium to quiet a crying child. A hyena symbolizes the menace and an addict's vision is shown through a nightmarish set design recalling Das Kabinett des Doktor Kaligari (1920).

James Kirkwood portrays a lawyer who suffers a nervous breakdown and becomes addicted to morphine. When his wife, played by Mrs. Reid, is unable to cope, and encouraged to also take up the habit, he is finally able to shake it. Bessie Love also starred, and a number of prominent inhabitants of Los Angeles appeared. The total cost was $254,907, and by the beginning of February 1924, Human Wreckage had already grossed $628,270. During release, as profits quickly mounted, F.B.O. was frank in acknowledging, that the distributor's accounting department had been careless and excessively eager to count a vast number of excess charges against the movie, over $40,000.

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