The Pre code era continues to delight when one finds hidden delights. Sounds like a tagline on a picture yet it is also what the Wesley Ruggles Directed ARE THESE OUR CHILDREN (1932) is. Its another drama about good youth falling under the influence to turn against society however like most typical stories it is the way it is handled.
This picture is a tough one to find yes was able to watch a good print on TCM network. These lead is played by very capable slightly young Cagney looking Eric Linden as Eddie Brand. Brand is hard working, cookies and milk eating kind of guy that in in love with the pretty neighborhood gal Mary (Rochelle Hudson) .
Brand is studious and caring as he lives with his Grandmother (Beryl Mercer) Naturally that changes that changes as times are tough to get ahead plus falling under the influence of drinking, smoking partying all night friends and of course a girl named Flo Carnes played by Arline Judge. The result is tragedy, thrill seeking pursuit of all that is lazy resulting in a death and disintegration of a family.
Eric Linden at times can be to innocent for some people yet he does fit the bill well as he struts around the dance floors and restaurants with his buddies and Flo Carnes and her friends on his arm. In spite of everything Brand returns home to eat his cookies and milk provided by his Grandmother in spite of stinking of booze and perfume.
The love interest in the form of the “Good girl” Mary ( Christian religious influence in the name except if you were MIDNIGHT MARY made in 1933) with Loretta Young) doesn’t get much screen time except to establish her sanctity of soul. Brands Grand mother and her plus Brand’s Little brother Bobby (Billy Butts) watch the gradual changes happen. What makes this picture compelling is the totally plausible relationships that evolve and in this case devolve toward the conclusion.
You have the Eddie Brand /Mary relationship that changes to the Brand/Flo couple plus her friends Maybelle known as Giggles ( Roberta Gale) and Agnes known as Dumbell (Mary Kornman) add to that the male friends Nick Crosby ( Ben Alexander) and Bennie Gray (Bobby Quirk) that urge each other on to all sorts of bad decisions. Each works in this small film without large name actors or faces which in this case tend to give it the ‘every person’ look and feel. This could and did happen on any street in any city if you stray from the beaten path of solid work.
The stakes get more as Brand forsakes staying in to prove ‘he is not a baby anymore’ finally spending the most of one snowy night 1930’s style effects included in the embrace of Flo only to return to cookies. Not to be outdone the thrill seekers search out more liquor from a neighborhood store of family Heine friend played by William Orlamond with tragic results for all.
The prison moments hold together well even on par with the stunning ending moments from ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938). Tearful moments between younger brothers and Grandmother played well together. The best if not slightly over dramatic moment is Eddie Brand walking towards his fate and the slight dissolve technique used in the background. You don’t get the big speech or needless preaching of what we all know is about to happen you just get the cold hard facts of the fate.
Disturbing moments in the courtroom scenes as all must testify to the events that occurred. Wesley Ruggles and the Writer Howard Estabrook chose to make the owner of the Drinking and dancing establishment that is the focal point of these events an Asian named Sam Kong (James Wang). It is as if no ‘White person’ would allow these kids to do their nocturnal activities but the nefarious foreigner. One wonders in this age of non Asians playing Asians that they chose a real Asian actor to do this. Kind of not putting forth a positive image while staying true to race.
ARE THESE OUR CHILDREN (1932) is a solid “B” picture filled with good performances, lovely street scene work especially at night in the snow. The cast works well together forming strong if slightly cliche relationships all to tell a story we have seen before. Yet watch the cast work together is the treat in itself with sexual innuendos like Flo remarking to Eddie that he doesn’t wear and undershirt as she blows down his chest after dancing. Good picture, hard to see but well worth it.