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Sparrows (Silent) [DVD] [1926] [US Import] [NTSC] [2026]

Mary Pickford , Roy Stewart , Tom McNamara , William Beaudine    DVD
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: 37.95
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Product details

  • Actors: Mary Pickford, Roy Stewart, Mary Louise Miller, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Charlotte Mineau
  • Directors: Tom McNamara, William Beaudine
  • Format: Black & White, DVD-Video, NTSC, Silent
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: Unrated (US MPAA rating. See details.)
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: 21 Sep 1999
  • Run Time: 109 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00000JWWK
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 237,357 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Louise Brooks defied all odds in becoming the defining cult figure in early cinema, despite the fact that her brief stardom was as an American actress in European films. Although Brooks lacked initial recognition, she was far more contemporary and provocative than established stars such as Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich.

Known as "America's Sweetheart", Mary Pickford was the female superstar of the silent era. She was huge box office, married the swashbuckling matinée idol Douglas Fairbanks (theirs was the first Hollywood celebrity wedding) and together they built their famous mansion PickFair. Astutely, Pickford learned the business of filmmaking: editing, cinematography, lighting and production. She was the first woman to form her own production company and, later, with Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin, she built the mega studio United Artists. She was one of the founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. While politicos were battling over woman's right to vote, Pickford's voice was such an influential one that the Academy awarded her what was perhaps an undeserved Oscar for her first talking performance in the wretched Coquette (1929). Pickford and Fairbanks were Hollywood Royalty, wining and dining the famous, from Albert Einstein to H.G. Welles. Alas, royalty has its price. Coquette flopped at the box office. With the advent of sound the public wanted new faces, and because of their "royalty" status, Pickford and Fairbanks were seen as the old establishment. Although Pickford had an exceptionally fine voice, her career, along with that of her husband's, came to an end.
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By K. Gordon TOP 500 REVIEWER
A gothic Mary Pickford silent vehicle that could fairly be derided as being
over-the-top, full of clichés, corny, melodramatic as hell, and

And yet Pickford is so charming, and some of the visual story telling
so good, that it's far more watchable than it seems to have any right
to be.

Pickford is a teenager playing mother to a group of orphans held
captive in a southern farm in the middle of the swamps by an evil land
owner and his wife who make the worst characters in Dickens look like
saints. There are some real moments of tension, and you can see how
much it laid the groundwork for the great "Night of the Hunter" years
later. And the twist ending is a nice surprise.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Nice Gift From the Past for Lemony Snickett Fans 29 Jun 2006
By Only-A-Child - Published on
United Artists in the mid-1920's stood outside the motion picture industry's block booking system. It owned no theaters and did not have enough films to offer them in blocks. This meant each of the UA producers (Griffith, Fairbanks, Chaplin, and Pickford) had to finance each film individually; not an easy thing with the rising costs of producing long features. While Griffith was digging himself into a big hole (which would ultimately cost him his production company) making epic films and trying to top his early successes, Pickford prudently operated on a smaller scale. The irony being that she produced the type of folksy stuff that Griffith had once done so well and so profitably.

"Sparrows" was her last appearance playing a teenager and even though in her thirties she probably would have been physically believable in these roles for a couple more years. Most often described as "Dickensian" because of its gloomy feel and slightly off-kilter production design, "Sparrows" is the original "Series of Unfortunate Events". It is regarded as the least dated of her pictures (maybe of all silents), fitting because it does not seem at all dated. Even the humor seems contemporary with little Molly misquoting bible verses with stuff like: "Let not thy right cheek know what thy left cheek is getting".

"Sparrows" is also more perennially appealing than any silent film but it deals with a serious subject as baby farms are a historical fact and wealthy parents had reasons to fear kidnapping. The kidnapping in "Sparrows" has an eerie similarity to that of the Lindbergh baby, which would not take place until seven years "after" the film.

The "look" of the film reflects the German expressionist style and should delight Lemony Snicket fans and anyone who gets off on creepy-strange beauty. Set designer Harry Oliver "aged the tree stumps with blowtorches, and the entire picture has that netherworld quality of a slightly stylized environment that could only be created in a movie studio". Watch for the early scene where the baby farm operator crushes the little doll and drops it into the quicksand where it slowly disappears.

You also see a lot of Pickford's technique in Hal Roach's "Little Rascals". Check out the sequence when Little Splutters is leaving and his imprisoned friends are waving goodbye from inside the barn, by passing their hands through the slats. In fact Spec O'Donnell, who plays nasty stepson Ambrose, would later be a Roach regular. He is responsible for the film's first big laugh when he beans Molly with a turnip while she is trying to get the baby to stop crying. It is totally unexpected and even the baby finds it funny.

Also of note is the dream sequence where Jesus comes to take the baby to heaven. Modern special effects could not improve on what they got using a simple matte exposure process. A similar technique worked so well with the swamp scenes that a legend grew up that Pickford and the children were actually at risk from the live alligators used in the scenes. Probably no silent managed a more genuinely suspenseful sequence that when they are crossing a rotting tree limb which is slowly cracking and dipping toward the water full of hungry alligators.

Gustav von Seyffertitz does great as the evil Mr. Grimes (an early Snidley Whiplash) and is one of the best bad guys to come out of the silent era.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Pickford's Best 31 Mar 2001
By Mr Peter G George - Published on
The reason why Sparrows works so well as a film is that there is a genuine sense of threat. This is partly because the sets used for the film, although constructed on the Pickford-Fairbanks backlot, are remarkably convincing. The baby farm, where Mary Pickford and her group of orphans are held prisoner, looks old, rundown and dirty, while the swamp surrounding the farm looks fetid, diseased and fully of dangers. The quicksand, which was actually made from sawdust and cork ground up with water, seems ready to swallow up the unwary. The alligators guarding the swamp are real, but their apparent proximity to Pickford and the children is an illusion brought about through clever splicing of two separate images.
The sense of menace which pervades the film also owes a great deal to the performance of Gustav von Seyffertitz as Grimes the owner of the farm. His limping gait means that he creeps everywhere, becoming a looming presence. His looks can be compared to those of Max Schreck in Nosferatu, but von Seyfferitz's performance is not that of a monster from a horror film. The threat that his acting suggests is more realistic than the threat of a nightmare.
Sparrows is a film with a great deal of suspense mixed with some fine humour and emotion. Pickford, as usual, gives a sympathetic performance. She is feisty, resourceful and courageous.
The black and white print used for this DVD is in very good condition. The only slight query I have is with regard to its length. Sparrows is often listed as being between 81 and 84 minutes in length, yet the print for the Milestone DVD runs 107 minutes. It could be that DVD print includes additional material, alternatively it could be that it runs slower than other prints.
The DVD has as a bonus two Pickford Biograph shorts directed by D.W. Griffith. Both Wilful Peggy and The Mender of Nets are entertaining and considering their age look remarkably fine.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pickford's Best 6 Dec 1999
By - Published on
Any doubts that may be held about Mary Picford's skill as an actress and the validity of her screen persona can be put to rest after watching "Sparrows". This is an absolutely beautiful film, and if they were handing out Oscars in 1926 Pickford would surely have been a contender.
The plot is faux-Dickens and it would be easy to sneer at the film's overt optimism and dated sentiment. But its a lovely film all around, with just the right blend of comedy, corn and thrills.
A special nod to some of the most beautiful camerawork I have had the pleasure of witnessing.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mary, Mary, your movie's quite scary 6 Jan 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Listen, contrary to the above, them ain't real alligators in the swamp chase; I saw it on a theatre screen, and I'm pretty sure I glimpsed their strings.
That said, this movie is scrumdiddlyumptious. It might be sentimental, but it's also macabre and intense enough that I've occasionally seen it referred to as a horror film. The atmosphere is so thick you can almost smell the swamp. I fell for it completely and was gasping through it along with the rest of the audience.
Pickford wasn't the shrinking violet her current image might suggest; as here, she played strongwilled girls who held up under awful conditions, and in real life she was one of the most powerful women in Hollywood's history. Here, she gets a villain & a challenge worthy of her.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fine Mary Pickford vehicle 14 Oct 2007
By Matthew G. Sherwin - Published on
Sparrows is a great Mary Pickford vehicle that keeps your attention throughout. The superb acting, the very well constructed sets, and the excellent cinematography all combine to create this motion picture masterpiece.

The action begins on a "baby farm" run by the evil Mr. Grimes (Gustave von Seyffertitz) and his wife Mrs. Grimes (Charlotte Mineau). The Grimes use very young children to labor in their rundown fields planting and harvesting vegetables. The eldest child, Molly (Mary Pickford) works hard and also looks out for the rest of the children who seem several years younger than she. Mr. Grimes has no heart--he sends them to bed without supper after they spend all day toiling in his fields; and he rings a bell whenever visitors come so that the kids of the baby farm know to hide. Grimes doesn't want it known that it is he running the baby farm.

Eventually, there is a new addition to the baby farm. Mr. Grimes gets the very young little girl of a wealthy family; her name is Doris Wayne (Mary Louise Miller). When Doris's father (Roy Stewart) finds out she's been kidnapped, he contacts the police and they quickly organize a manhunt for the men who kidnapped little Doris and took her to Grimes's baby farm.

Meanwhile, Grimes want to bury the evidence--literally. He decides to throw little baby Doris in the quicksand of the nearby swamp so that the police can never find her and so that he will never be charged with any crime. When Molly hears of this she quickly concocts a plan for her and the smaller children to escape through the swamp, across a small creek filled with live alligators and eventually to safety and better homes.

Of course the plot can go anywhere from here. As Mr. Grimes knows, escape is nearly impossible through the quicksand of the swamp. How will Molly guide the children through that? How will they avoid the alligators of the swamp? Will they be successful at escaping the baby farm? What will happen to Mr. and Mrs. Grimes if they do escape from the farm? Watch and find out!

The choreography works well in scenes on the farm. Molly and the son of Mr. Grimes, Ambrose (Spec O'Donnell) fight it out once or twice and the choreography really enhances these scenes. The cinematography impresses me: They made it seem that Molly and the children really were very, very close to the live alligators. However, as one reviewer correctly notes, the alligators were filmed separately and the film was patched together to create the illusion that the alligators were very close.

The DVD comes with two extras; both are shorts from 1910 when D. W. Griffith directed Mary Pickford in a number of films. On this DVD we get Wilful Peggy and The Mender of Nets. These two films let us see a rather young Mary Pickford already acting every bit of the pro that she always was. Great! The prints are in excellent condition for their age, too. Amazon notes above that there is a documentary with Whoopi Goldberg; but there was no such extra on the disc that I received.

Overall, Sparrows is an excellent film starring the immortal Mary Pickford; her acting impresses me every step of the way. Look for a fine, convincing performance by Gustave von Seyffertitz as the evil Mr. Grimes; and Spec O'Donnell does a great job playing the son of Mr. and Mrs. Grimes as well.

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