(directors: Phillips Smalley/Lois Weber; screenwriters: Lois Weber/from a story by Franklin Hall & L. Payton; cinematographer: Allen G. Siegler; cast: Tyrone Power, Sr. (Richard Walton), Juan de la Cruz (Dr. Malfit), Cora Drew (Walton’s housekeeper), C. Norman Hammond (Dr. Homer), Helen Riaume (Mrs. Walton), Marie Walcamp (Mrs. Brandt), Rena Rogers (Lillian), A.D. Blake (Roger), Mary MacLaren (The Maid); Runtime: 63; Universal Studios; 1916-silent)

“It is clearly a message film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The husband-and-wife team of Phillips Smalley and Lois Weber directed, with Lois also writing the script. It is clearly a message film exploring both the horrors of abortion and of bringing unloved children into the world. They are seen as feminist issues. It was a controversial film when released, censored in certain areas of the country. But for Universal Studios this was a landmark film made by its showcase director, who was considered by the public to be the equal of Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffith. Lois was receiving an enormous salary of $5,000 a week at the time, but history has been unkind to her missionary zeal films. Those films have become outdated. Lois has become a forgotten figure in movie lore, as her films were either lost or never shown. This film was restored this year by the efforts of The Library of Congress.

The moralizing might look reactionary to a modern viewer. It most likely will be appreciated most by the film historian and those interested in knowing the social issues raised in the early 1900s. The film is about the upper-classes and how they get away with everything, including murder. Its popularity at the time was because it gave the public a chance to see how the wealthy handle the same problems that the poor and middle-classes must face. Most of the audience that went to see the film was from the latter two classes.

The film is set in an unnamed big city where the district attorney, Richard Walton (Tyrone Power, Sr.), lives in a sprawling mansion with his childless wife (Helen Riaume). He is a proponent of eugenics and is trying the case of a Dr. Homer, who is a proponent for birth control. Homer, in his experience of working in the slums, feels that only those children who are wanted should be born. But the all-male jury was not sympathetic to his theories and found him guilty of malpractice.

Walton returns to his mansion after his court victory, disappointed that his wife hasn’t given him any children. Mrs. Walton is an avid party-goer, socializing with a group of ladies who are social butterflies and who are not that interested in motherhood. Mrs. Walton advises one of her society ladies to go to a Dr. Malfit (Juan de la Cruz) to get an abortion, where she has had two already without her husband’s knowledge.

By coincidence, Mrs. Walton’s bachelor brother (Blake) comes to stay with her at the same time the housemaid’s daughter (Rena Rogers) comes to stay, while she looks for an apartment. Her brother takes advantage of the inexperienced girl and makes her pregnant. When the girl tells him the news he goes running to his sister, who tells him to get hold of Dr. Malfit to perform an illegal abortion.

This abortion goes badly and the girl dies, but not before she tells her mother the truth. The outraged district attorney brings Dr. Malfit to trial, and he is convicted and given a harsh sentence of fifteen years of hard labor.

But Dr. Malfit lets the district attorney know that the district attorney’s wife had two abortions and that her society friends had a number of abortions which leads to the melodramatic scene, where Walton confronts his wife and cries out in anguish: “Where are my children?” As a result of her abortions, Mrs. Walton can no longer have children, and the film ends as we see shots of the couple getting older and growing further apart in their cold mansion. It is a home, where the silent question of the film’s title haunts them for the rest of their lives. As added melodramatics the visualizations of all the aborted babies snuffed out by Dr. Malfit are conjured up on the screen, as the repentant Mrs. Walton and the grief-stricken Mr. Walton sit together in silence.

Where Are My Children? Poster