This 1931 film, Are These Our Children?, tells the story of Eddie Brand (played by Eric Linden).
Eddie was a good kid, a teenager who never had any trouble with the law and who, at one time, seemed to have a bright future ahead of him. He came from a fine family. They may not have been rich but they were respected around the neighborhood in New York where they lived. It even looked like Eddie could have gone to city college and gotten a job with the parks department or something else like that. A good job, with a pension! Instead, Eddie Brand ended up on death row. How did it happen?
Well, according to this film, it all begins with a high school speech contest. All Eddie has to do is recite the Constitution from memory and …. well, I’m not really sure what Eddie is going to get out of it, beyond being known as the kid in the neighborhood who has memorized the entire Constitution. Unfortunately, the speech contest doesn’t go as Eddie was hoping. He forgets a few amendments and he loses his chance to be a high school big shot. Having experienced the taste of failure for the first time in his life, Eddie decides to become a drunk.
No, seriously, that’s what happens. Eddie starts out as a fine and upstanding citizen and then, one failed recitation later, he’s a loud-mouthed drunk who spends all of his time listening to jazz and hanging out with a bunch of other juvenile delinquents. Of course, since this film is from the early 1930s, these are the best-dressed juvenile delinquents around. Everyone wears a suit and a hat. In fact, they seem to be trying to imitate the gangsters that they’ve seen in the movies. Eddie, in particular, seems to think that he’s James Cagney. ARE THESE OUR CHILDREN!?
One night, Eddie and the gang drop by a local store. Though the owner may be a friend of Eddie’s family, that still doesn’t stop the drunk Eddie from impulsively shooting him. When it appears that Eddie might get away with the murder, he and his friends start to get careless. Eddie talks too much. Eventually, they’re all arrested and put on trial.
Being put on trial for murder does nothing to straighten Eddie out. He’s just as cocky as ever. He even acts as his own counsel. Interestingly enough, Eddie becomes a bit of celebrity. The reporters love talking to him and the courtroom is full of Eddie Brand groupies. And yet, everyone knows that Eddie is going to screw up eventually…..
Made during the pre-code era, Are These Our Children? is a social problem film that was supposed to leave audiences wondering what was wrong with those young kids, with their suits and their rat-a-tat dialogue. Seen today, it’s an undeniably creaky and rather slow-moving affair. Rather than being a victim of booze and bad friends, Eddie just comes across as being an idiot. Director Wesley Ruggles uses a weird spiral effect to signify the passage of time and we also get one of those classic newspaper headline montages. (“MURDER STILL UNSOLVED!” one reads.) That said, the film does get a bit more interesting once Eddie is put on trial and he becomes a bit of a tabloid celebrity. The film’s theme about how the media exploits crime and misery is just as relevant today as it was in 1931 and the scene in which the reporters instruct Eddie’s girlfriends on how to pose for their cameras is enjoyably cynical.
In the end, things don’t go well for Eddie. The lesson here? Don’t allow your children to join the Speech and Debate Club. Only misery will follow!
Seriously …. ARE THESE OUR CHILDREN!?