Children of Divorce

Last week Flicker Alley, in association with Blackhawk Films Collection, released Children of Divorce directed by Frank Lloyd and Josef von Sternberg. The 1927 film starring “IT” girl Clara Bow is now, for the first time, available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.

The film is an adaptation of Owen Johnson’s novel of the same name. It tells the story of three friends who meet in a home for children of divorced parents, or, an orphanage. The short version is that it is a place that divorced parents could leave their children so they can go off and spend their vast wealth. It it seems suspect, to me.

The film opens with a young version of our character. Kitty, eventually played by Clara Bow, meets Jean, Esther Ralston, after Jean is the only child who befriends Kitty after her mother drops her off at the home. The two become fast friends when they are the only two left behind for the summer holiday. Enter Ted, played by Gary Cooper (yes, the High Noon Gary Cooper). Ted promises to one day marry Jean, because who knows.

One fade later we meet Kitty in all of here Clara Bow glory entertaining a poor French nobleman who is in the States to marry a rich woman. Sadly, Kitty is poor so their “love will never work.” –Note, the characters are exactly as petty as I am making them out. —

Okay. The story is not an easy sell. It is a wealthy brat trying to get rich and learning that love and friendship is more important than wealth.  It is important to remember this movie was two years before the Great Depression so the timing was dreadful, but that’s another bop. So, what is the point, and why does it matter.

First you two of the most important names of the silent era that you may or may not have heard. Although, if you are here you are a fan of classic cinema so you probably are familiar. On one side you a Clara Bow. Clara Bow is the IT girl. The first. She is the basis of ninety years of what ‘it’ is. If you watch the special feature you will lean that ‘it’ was a marketing ploy that worked. There is a special feature biography documentary on Clara included on the disc.

The second name is Josef von Sternberg who was an uncredited director on production. von Sternberg had two big breaks, the first being when he caught the eye of Charlie Chaplin. The second is the casting of one Marlene Dietrich.

There is a growing culture of classic film viewing which is fawning to have old unreleased pictures made available. This is one of Flicker Alley’s strengths. Children of Divorce is not one of Clara Bow’s best, or even important features. What we have here is an absolutely gorgeous restoration of a film that could easily have been forgotten without organizations like Flicker Alley and Turner Classic Movies.

To me, watching a well restored picture is more entertaining than watching a overly wrought, special-effects laded picture. Children of Divorce is a pure film. Actors, makeup, costumes, and design. Without suggesting anything negative about modern film it is joyous to watch something nearly 90-years old which appear like it could have been photographed this year. In all fairness there is one scene, basically an intertitle, that looks bad. I have to assume that it was too far gone and there was no quality alternative.

Flicker Alley releasing their 50th title is nothing to shake a stick at. The reason that I keep sticking around is because they are constantly producing the highest quality products that are just not available elsewhere. Home video is not an easy business and they keep on keeping on because of releases like these.