"Dr. Halliday Sutherland is a born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better” – G.K. Chesterton
The penultimate paragraph of Birth Control: A Statement of Christian Doctrine Against the Neo-Malthusians contained this sentence:
“Where are my children?” was the question shouted yesterday from the cinemas.
While I understood the literal meaning of the words, it is only recently that I learned that “Where are my children?” referred to a 1916 film starring Tyrone Power (senior) and Helen Riaume.
You can watch the film on YouTube by clicking here.
Synopsis: In the film Power plays District Attorney Richard Walton. He prosecutes a doctor for promulgating birth control material and, presumably, contraceptive devices. He explains that he spends time in the slums where he sees the impact of poverty, disease, drunkenness and overpopulation. “I am accused of distributing indecent literature because I advocate birth regulation. The law should help instead of hindering me.”
At home, it becomes clear that Walton longs to be a father, but so far he has no children. What he doesn’t know is that Mrs Walton enjoys her social life too much to bothered with having babies. On learning that she is pregnant, she visits the Dr Herman Malfit who performs an abortion.
At this point, two guests come to stay in the Walton household. One is Mrs Walton’s brother and the other is the young daughter of their maid. The brother (dubbed “The wolf”) is a creep and he wastes little time in seducing the daughter (dubbed “The lamb”). When pregnancy ensues, the young lady is sent to Dr Malfit. Things don’t go well and, shortly after returning home, the young lady collapses. On her deathbed she confesses all to her distraught mother.
Walton investigates. Soon Dr Malfit is brought to justice. During the trial, he drops a note threatening to drag her into the trial. The ploy fails, and Malfit is sentenced to 15 years hard labour for his crimes. Angered for being punished by the husband of one of his accomplices, Malfit shouts at his prosecutor. Sort out what’s going on a home first, he says, and he throws his accounts book across the bar table. When Walton reads the book, he learns not only of his wife’s abortions, but those of her socialite friends as well.
Walton returns home and finds his wife entertaining her friends. Brandishing the book, he announces that he now knows why none of the women have had any children. This rather spoils the party and things get worse when he throws them out of the house. He confronts his wife with the eponymous question: “Where are my children?”
Mrs Walton repents and vows to amend her ways. Unfortunately, her abortions have rendered her unable to bear children. The film ends with Walton and his wife, lonely in their old age, sitting by the fire, haunted by the ghosts of their unborn children and the eponymous question: “Where are my children?”
Criticism: “Where are my children?” is a powerful film and it is still worth watching today as an interesting historical work. It deals with the issue of birth control in the context of those times.You will be pleasantly surprised by the excellent picture quality and clear soundtrack—the result of an excellent restoration.
Movie trivia: In real life Helen Riaume was married to Tyrone Power (senior). They had two children, including the actor Tyrone Power.
Connection to this blog: As mentioned, Dr Sutherland referred to the film in the final paragraphs of his 1922 book Birth Control: A Statement of Christian Doctrine Against the Neo-Malthusians:
Our declining birth-rate is a fact of the utmost gravity, and a more serious position has never confronted the British people. Here in the midst of a great nation, at the end of a victorious war, the law of decline is working, and by that law the greatest empires in the world have perished. In comparison with that single fact all other dangers, be they war, of politics, or of disease, are of little moment. Attempts have already been made to avert the consequences by partial endowment of motherhood and by saving infant life. Physiologists are now seeking the endocrinous glands and the vitamins for a substance to assist procreation. “Where are my children?” was the question shouted yesterday from the cinemas. “Let us have children, children at any price,” will be the cry of tomorrow. And all these thoughts were once in the mind of Augustus, Emperor of the world from the Atlantic to the Euphrates, from Mount Atlas to the Danube and the Rhine.
The Catholic Church has never taught that “an avalanche of children” should be brought into the world regardless of consequences. God is not mocked; as men sow, so shall they reap, and against a law of nature both the transient amelioration wrought by philanthropists and the subtle expediences of scientific politicians are alike futile. If our civilisation is to survive we must abandon those ideals that lead to decline. There is only one civilisation immune from decay, and that civilisation endures on the practical eugenics once taught by a united Christendom and now expounded almost solely by the Catholic Church. [emphasis added]
Marie Stopes described Where are my children? as a “wretched film”. She regarded it as “dishonest” because, she said, it “deliberately confused birth control information with abortion.” She used her position on the English cinema commission in an unsuccessful attempt to suppress the film. And who knows? As a playwright and dramatist, the court scene from “Where are my children?” might even have inspired the real-life court room drama when she sued Dr Sutherland for libel in 1923.
“Where are my children?” Universal Film Mfg Co, 1916. Producers: Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley; Screenwriter: Lois Weber. Cinematographer: Al Siegler, Stephen S. Norton. Cast: Tyrone Power, Helen Riaume, Marie Walcamp, Cora Drew, Rene Rogers.
Mark Sutherland, Curator, hallidaysutherland.com