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Melodrama with a Message
AnnieLola16 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The title might lead one to hope that this is a lurid biblical costumer, but alas, such is not the case. Griffith or De Mille might have thrown in a vision of ancient times, but this rare piece is an earnest effort to promote tuberculosis prevention and cure, played out with a human drama. Edison released "The Temple of Moloch' late in 1914, "Produced in Co-operation with the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis". The title has to do with the idea of human sacrifice, as Moloch was greedy for burnt offerings, and tuberculosis too has shown an insatiable hunger for flesh.

The story:

Dedicated Dr. Jordan is increasingly concerned about the health risks suffered by workers at a local pottery factory. "In Harrison Pratt's badly ventilated and dusty pottery the doctor finds the workers easy prey to tuberculosis." The doctor can point out consumptive workers, but the only result is that the stricken men are dismissed and replaced by fresh victims.

The good doctor visits the humble home of the Swansons, where Eric Swanson can't shake the consumptive cough he picked up while working at the Pratt pottery factory and the children are obviously at great risk of infection. The Swansons are a virtual How to Do Everything Wrong poster family, and when the doctor instructs them on preventive hygiene (like not sharing his water cup with the kids and not spitting on the floor) and ventilation they ignore his warnings.

"Eloise Pratt becomes interested in Dr. Jordan's work at the preventorium for children from tuberculous families." The pretty daughter of the wealthy factory owner volunteers in the doctor's crusade, assisting him in tending youngsters who have been exposed to the disease.

The inevitable tragedy strikes at the Swanson home! "A month later. The Swanson baby is too frail to resist tuberculosis." The doctor can do nothing to save the infant, and Papa Swanson rails against the factory owner. "I got the rot in the Pratt pottery and my curse is on Harrison Pratt!" he raves.

At Eloise's twentieth birthday celebration we notice that her younger brother has a touch of cough...

Dr. Jordan pleads with Harrison Pratt to improve conditions at the factory, but is ignored (he gets ignored a lot). Having no other recourse, the doctor exposes the situation publicly in the newspaper. Eloise is incensed at this attack on her father and gives the doctor what-for. "I am sorry, Miss Pratt, but the place is a modern Temple of Moloch. Children are fed to disease as they were fed to the ancient god." It doesn't take advanced lip-reading skills to tell that she's saying "I hate you! I hate you!" --which of course means that she really loves him.

Then, horrors! Eloise and then her brother fall ill, and the diagnoses is-- tuberculosis!

Word of this tragic irony gets around: "Swanson hears that Harrison Pratt is paying the penalty." Filled with vengeful glee, Eric Swanson rushes to the Pratt home, where the two young patients are seen in wheelchairs. Swanson tells how he fell ill from the conditions at the factory and then lost his job, carrying the disease home to his family (never mind ignoring advice about preventing contagion).

Harrison Pratt now states, somewhat confusingly, that "My daughter nursed your children and that is the way they (the Pratt children, not the Swanson) caught consumption." Having at last realized what a dreadful scourge TB is and his responsibility in having allowed it to flourish, he vows to mend his ways. "I shall clean up my property and stop the spread of tuberculosis."

That Christmas all is rosy, and we might infer that Eloise and the doctor have an understanding. Their joy is complete when Harrison Pratt donates a hefty amount to be used for preventoriums and fresh-air schools. The reel ends with a pitch to buy Red Cross Christmas stamps (a penny apiece) and support the crusade. A nice little drama, and a fascinating look at a point in the history of the battle against tuberculosis, which continues today.
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