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.