In case you thought the concept of “kindertrauma” was something new under the sun, here’s a silent picture from 1926 to dispel that notion. SPARROWS sings the tale of Mother Molly (MARY PICKFORD) the eldest in a group of orphans being abused at the hands of a sinister Dickensian “baby farm” overlord named Mr. Grimes (seriously creepy GUSTAVE VON SEYFFERITZ). Realizing that he’s in danger of having his racket found out, meanie Grimes intends to destroy the evidence by dumping the kids in his care into the deadly swamp that surrounds his farm. Mary orchestrates a harrowing escape through said swamp and Grimes, realizing one of the tots has blackmail value gives chase. The murky crocodile minefield provides plenty of peril and thrilling narrow escapes for the plucky proto-final girl PICKFORD whose every hurdle only inspires more determination. Heavily influenced by German expressionist cinema and a guiding source of inspiration for the equally exquisite NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, SPARROWS is a dark fairy tale whose patches of humor keep it miraculously buoyant. PICKFORD, who was in reality 34 at the time, delivers her last juvenile performance and she’s a real head-butting scrapper. She’s actually hilarious on more than one occasion which is a marvel considering the oppressive, yet undeniably gorgeous surroundings created by set designer HARRY OLIVER. It’s hard to beat a dense gothic swamp as a perfect environment to display both the beauty and casual cruelty of nature and director WILLIAM BEAUDINE uses it to his advantage at regular intervals. True, a superfluous boat chase and leisurely epilogue can’t compete with the film’s earlier high points in the swamp, but it’s only fair to allow PICKFORD and her crew a happy ending. Heavy with religious themes (the big J.C. even makes a cameo), the title itself refers to God’s unavailability to aid the kids because of his preoccupation with every sparrow that falls. (One kid inquires why sparrows got such pull with the man upstairs). In the end, it seems God may have not been so busy after all, but I still think Mother Molly deserves the lion’s share of the credit. Gee, a world where religion is shown as a source of inspiration and hope rather than a cloak to excuse ratty behavior? You gotta love those olden timey days!