What Becomes of the Children (December 5, 1936)
Released December 5, 1936: Dad searches for money and power, mom enjoys a life of wealthy leisure, and the kids are hungry for parental love that they cannot find.
Directed by W. Lee Wilder
Written by Cora Beach.
The Actors: Joan Marsh (Marion Worthington), Robert Frazer (John Worthington), Natalie Moorhead (Edith Worthington), Glen Boles (Fred Worthington), Claudia Dell (Gayle), Niles Welch (Mr. Scott), Barbara Pepper (Elsie Ford), Larry Kent (Roy Daniels), Wilson Benge (Bates), Mary MacLaren (the Governess), Sonny Bupp (little Freddy), Anne Bennett (little Marion), Gennaro Curci (Tony), Franklyn Farnum (Shelby), Joseph W. Girard (detective chief), John Elliott (the Judge).
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If my girlfriend hears someone say, "Money can't buy happiness," she is likely to jokingly reply, "They just don't know where to shop!" This movie is about a wealthy businessman who spends all of his time building the largest railroad in the nation. His wife is just as dedicated to spending his money faster than he can earn it. They have two little kids that are as cute as a button, and all they want are parents that will spend time with them. This is definately a 'message' movie, one intended to teach uncaring parents a lesson. You will get that message from the prologue speech that scrolls up the screen as the film opens. And as the movie progresses from their childhood to their adult lives of misfortune, you get the message loud and clear: If you don't care for your children when they are young, they will grow up to become nightclubbing murderers!
This movie was filmed during the depths of the Great Depression, when most of America was searching for a scrap of bread every day, and this tale shows a very wealthy family that has nothing but self-made trouble and misfortune. I'm not sure, but part of the message to the moviegoers may have been, "Don't feel badly because you are not wealthy, because if you were, you would have only sorrow and misfortune." But it may not have been, as the end of the movie is quite upbeat and everyone lives happily ever after. It may well have been a story about the wealthy to encourage the folks without work or money that in the land of dreams, they might also one day become wealthy like the Worthingtons. I remember in the big inflation and recession years of the late 1970's and early 1980's the popularity of the television show, "Dallas," about the wealthy Texas Ewing family. As most of America was suffering through very tough times, we all enjoyed watching the lives of the wealthy. The one phrase that every American knew in the summer of 1980 was, "Who Shot J.R.?" The whole country was caught up in the adventures and mis-adventures of the wealthy Ewings that year.
Maybe this is a case of, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Maybe in 1936 this was the way struggling America forgot about their daily struggles and lived for an hour like the wealthy Worthingtons, and saw that wealthy folks, just like regular folks, have their troubles with life. Pop a big bowl of white kernel popcorn (white kernels are smaller but tastier than the yellow kernels that most folks eat) and enjoy a slice of wealthy life from the days of the Great Depression.