If the title didn't tip you off as to what to expect, the prologue leaves little doubt. A somewhat lengthy Calvinistic dirge berating the audience for being selfish hedonists let's you know what sort of sermon it intends to be. You should be at home with your kids rather than out watching this movie. I don't think it is a coincidence that it was distributed by "Puritan Distributing Company."
The bad parents in the movie are laughable caricatures of inattentive, rich parents. The father is a power hungry rail tycoon (everyone during the Great Depression was)who only wants to make more money and fails to take his children to the zoo. The mother, who for some reason isn't expected to take the children to the zoo, is more concerned with her society friends and expensive clothes. She wants her husband to stop spending so much time at work so he can pay attention to her, but doesn't want to stop spending so much money, which he forces her to do. This leads to the divorce that "destroys" the family.
In a bizarrely unrealistic move, the judge grants the father the custody of the son, the mother of the daughter, and the siblings separate without ever making contact with each other until adulthood, where the story really begins. Each grown child has an unbelievable teen-angst temper tantrum about how they didn't get enough attention as children with their respective parent, and now we are to presume the kids are delinquents because of it.
That is where this moralistic story falls apart on itself however, as the children are actually very well adjusted, kind people. They get in to trouble, but it is none of their own doing. This story was presumably to show how a broken family would lead to degenerate offspring, but the children are quite well balanced, and the most morally centered people in the picture. Only because of bad luck and people doing them wrong do they ever have misfortune. If the film makers wanted to show that broken families lead to children who stray from righteousness, they failed miserably. The kids should have been the criminals, not the people around them.
Still, it is interesting to watch because of the absurdity of it all, and it does take some turns occasionally that you don't really expect.
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