By Steve D. Stones
The 1930s was a time full of government sponsored propaganda films that warned of the dangers of drug use and promiscuous sex. Reefer Madness (1936), Cocaine Fiends (1935), Marijuana (1936) and Sex Madness (1938) are just a few of these from the 30s. Today these films have a kitschy, camp quality that humors fans of cult movies. Many are still shown in midnight movie houses today.
What Becomes Of The Children? (1936) warns of the dangers of neglectful parents. It's another 30s propaganda film that stereotypes people who engage in a specific type of behavior and the outcome it has on everyone around them.
Railroad tycoon John Worthington, played by Robert Frazer (who is in Bela Lugosi films "White Zombie" and "Black Dragons") is so obsessed with money, power and his occupation that he pays little attention to his children. His wife Edith, played by Natalie Moorhead, is a socialite who enjoys spending her husband's money and ignoring both her husband and her children.
Both parents are also very bored of each other and argue frequently, so they decide to get a divorce. John is awarded custody of his son Fred, and Edith is awarded custody of their daughter Marion. Both siblings have little contact with each other as the years roll on.
It's not until the children grow up to be adults that their upbringing starts to have an impact on their lives. Marion gets mixed up and married to a jewel thief named Daniels. Fred and Marion somehow end up in the same bar one night after not seeing each other for many years, and a fight breaks out between Fred and Daniels. Both siblings end up on a murder trial for the accidental killing of Daniels.
The underlying theme of this film comes from the old saying - Money can't buy you happiness. Worthington has achieved great financial success in his life, but he has failed miserably as a husband and father for being at work all the time. Even his lawyer friend warns him of the dangers of spending so much time achieving financial success and the impact it is having on his family. Worthington does not heed this warning until everything starts to fall apart in his family life.
The message of this film today might seem a bit naive, considering the fact that most American homes have both parents at work full time, and often one of the parents is working two or more jobs to keep food on the table. Like Reefer Madness (1936), a warning is posted at the beginning of the movie, only this warning is about the selfish nature of parents who neglect their children.
In the end, Marion and Fred are acquited of any murder charge, and the Worthington family gets back together with a much stronger bond in a happy Hollywood ending. Happy viewing.