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Tomorrow s Children / Child Bride (Forbidden Fruit Vol. 5)
The fifth entry in Kino Lorber's Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age Of The Exploitation Picture, which is done in conjunction with Something Weird Video, is Crane Wilbur's 1934 film Tomorrow's Children, a fifty-seven-minute look at the weird world of... eugenics!
Alice Mason (Diane Sinclair) wants nothing more than to marry her boyfriend and start a family with him but there's a problem. See, Alice may be normal enough, but the state has decided that her family is ‘defective' and as such, that she, nor her kin, should be allowed to reproduce. Her parents (Arthur Wanzer and Sarah Padden) are both raging drinks who, despite the fact that they appear to be senior citizens, have been popping out kids for quite some time now and this has led to problems. Her younger brothers have been born with physical handicaps and some of them mental issues as well, even winding up behind bars for criminal behavior. The best thing to do, in the eyes of the local authorities, is to end the Mason bloodline now before future family members become even more of a burden on society! The only proper way to do this? Forced sterilization by order of the court!
Alice's boyfriend obviously doesn't want this to happen, he cares for her deeply, and Father O'Brien (Crane Wilbur himself) takes issue with the court order, but will it be enough and, just as importantly, will it be in time?
Patently ridiculous by modern standards, Tomorrow's Children purports to want an end to the practice of forced sterilization but really it's an hour of exploitative nonsense. It's crazy enough to be thoroughly entertaining but it is very much a product of its time and to say that it hasn't aged well, at least in terms of political correctness, would be charitable at best. But as a relic of a bygone era, a cinematic time capsule of sorts, the movie is as fascinating as it is seriously entertaining. The movie doesn't shy away from its depictions of its subject matter, and it works in some rather over the top drama into the mix as well. Crane Wilbur may not have had a lot of style as a director, but he keeps things moving at a good pace, crafting a film that is as lean as it is nonsensical.
Diane Sinclair is quite good in the lead. She's believable enough and makes for a sympathetic character. It isn't her fault that her family is a mess, she was born into it but didn't choose it and has risen above her roots to become a decent member of society. We understand that it isn't fair what is put upon her by the system, and we like Alice enough, thanks to Sinclair's performance, that we want her to come out on top of all of this. Wanzer and Padden are pretty amusing as her drunken parents, more than a little overacting is done on their parts, and Wilbur himself is amusing as the priest in eth film.
Tomorrow's Children arrives on Blu-ray transferred from an unspecified source but from elements that look to be an archival print. There's print damage noticeable throughout, mostly vertical scratches, but if you can look past that this isn't in particularly bad shape for a low budget exploitation picture fast approaching its centennial. The black and white picture shows occasional contrast blooming but that is almost certainly a result of the original camera work. Black levels are decent and the grey scale here is fine. Detail levels are quite good given the age of the elements, and the transfer stays film-like from start to finish, showing no issues with noise reduction , edge enhancement or compression artifacts. Around the thirty-minute mark the transfer appears to use a separate source that is in much rougher shape, it's softer and detail levels drop considerably. Thankfully this section only lasts about two-minutes or so.
The English language 16-bit LPCM Mono track is on par, quality wise, with the video. There are no alternate language or subtitle options provided. There's a little bit of hiss here and there and range is quite understandably limited but dialogue stays clean and clear and easy enough to follow. The levels are properly balanced throughout, and while there are some audible defects here and there, overall it sounds just fine given the history of the picture and the elements available to use for this release.
Extras start with an audio commentary from Eric Schaefer, the author of Bold! Daring! Shocking! A History Of Exploitation Films. It's an interesting talk that opens with an examination of the text cards that open the screen, pointing out some interesting details about how they present the intent of the film. He then goes on to talk about the impact of the Hayes Code on films like this and other exploitation pictures that dealt with the sex hygiene exploitation subgenre. He offers up some details about the cast, particularly Don Douglas and Sterling Holloway (famous for voicing Winnie The Pooh!) but also Diane Sinclair. He gives plenty of background information on producer Bryan Foy and his importance in the American film industry, he examines the portrayal of public welfare workers in the picture, he offers info on writer Wallace Thurman and cinematography William Thompson and quite a bit more like when compulsory sterilization was actually enforced by judges earlier in history. There are sections where Schaefer starts to narrate what we're already seeing on screen, which isn't the most exciting content to listen to, but when he's dissecting the film and offering information on it, the track is quite good.
A second feature, the sixty-two-minute Child Bridefrom 1938, is also included. Written and directed by Harry Revier (as Harry J. Revier) in 1938, the film tells the story of Jennie (Shirley Mills), a twelve-year-old girl who lives with her parents, Ira (George Humphreys) and Ma (Dorothy Carol), in the mountains of an impoverished American south. She strikes up a friendship with schoolteacher Miss Carol (Diana Durrell), a kind woman who also grew up in the mountains but who managed to get herself an education before returning with the specific intention of ending the area's tradition of child marriage. This doesn't sit well with some of the men in the area, many of whom take issue with Carol's crusade and want to put a stop to her. Ira steps up to defend her, but it won't be easy. Meanwhile, a local named Jake Bolby (Warner Richmond) aims to make young Jennie his own child bride and Jennie's friendship with Freddie (Bob Bollinger) becomes complicated.
This one clearly deals in some problematic subject matter, but it's a fascinating historical artifact and, yes, very much a trashy exploitation film in its own right and at the same time (despite the fact that, like so many others of its ilk, the picture opens with a title card noting how this is meant to serve as a warning to the audience). It's interesting to see Shirley Mills here before she went on to become quote famous, and she's quite good in the lead. In fact, most of the cast is quite good here, delivering reasonably believable performances. Revier's direction is simple but effective.
The black and white film is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and famed at 1.33.1, taken from elements in less than pristine condition but completely watchable if you don't mind the print damage. The English language 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track has some hiss and occasional distortion but otherwise is serviceable enough. There are no subtitles provided.
Film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas provides an audio commentary over Child Bride, which she rightly describes as ‘scuzzy.' She makes the point that child sexuality has obviously been a sensitive subject for years and how this film lacks the sensitivity it should have to deal with the topics that it explores. She then breaks down precisely what makes this such a difficult film to watch in the modern day and why, the way that our lead character is portrayed and the marketing behind the film, how exploitation filmmakers set out to profit off of controversial subjects, Shirley Mills' career and who she wound up in The Grapes Of Wrath, the presence of littler person Angelo Rossitto (from Freaks and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome), trouble the film had with the production code, how the film deals with pedophilia and ‘youthful marriage, the history of child marriage in the United States and quite a bit more. It's an interesting and very well thought out talk that covers a lot of ground and does a very good job of providing some important context for the picture.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are trailers for Mom And Dad, Marihuana, Narcotic, Reefer Madness and Tomorrow's Children. Menus and chapter selection are also provided.
Tomorrow's Children and Child Bride are both entertaining and amusing artifacts, products of their time to be sure but fascinating to look at through a modern eye while offering a good amount of unintentional humor. Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release does a nice job with some imperfect elements and throws in some decent commentary tracks to provide historical context and analysis for each film. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.